Rural AIDS Patients Face Stigma and Lack of Specialized Care
"Fear and ignorance" about HIV/AIDS "linger[s]" in rural communities, even though the number of new cases is proportionally larger than in urban areas, the Washington Post reports. According to the CDC, about 7% of AIDS cases in the country are in rural areas, an increase from 6% in 1994. However, the actual number of AIDS cases is difficult to gauge in rural areas because residents are "less likely" to undergo testing and many believe their communities are "invulnerable to the disease." In addition, because of the "stigma" associated with HIV/AIDS and large distances to clinics, the Post reports that many in rural areas "seldom seek care." Experts also say that education campaigns are hampered by rural school systems. Martin Gallagher, a physician in Hagerstown, Md., said, "You have kids experimenting with unsafe sex, religious traditions that don't allow for condoms and schools that don't allow frank discussions [about] sex. All those are ingredients for disaster." Rhonda Norris executive director of AIDS Response Effort in Frederick County, Va., said, "All those things that were stigmatized at the very onset of the disease are still very much present here."
Expanding Access in Rural Maryland
Primary care physicians are often "scarce" in rural areas, and those physicians who are available often are unable or unwilling to treat AIDS patients, the Post reports. Colin Flynn, chief epidemiologist for Maryland's AIDS Administration, said that some rural doctors say there are "too few" AIDS patients to justify "trying to stay abreast" of HIV/AIDS and that others "fear" they will become know as the "AIDS doctor." In addition, the Post reports that many pharmacies in rural counties do not carry AIDS drugs, such as Zerit and Crixivan. In response to the rising HIV-infection rates in rural areas, Maryland is doubling the number of AIDS clinics in rural Maryland from four to eight. But the Post reports that many patients in rural areas prefer to travel to Washington, D.C., for care so they will not be recognized in their local communities (Gray, Washington Post, 6/10).