San Antonio Express-News Features History of AIDS Awareness, Prevention in City
While San Antonio has never had the high number of HIV/AIDS cases of other urban locales, efforts to prevent and treat the disease have increased over the past two decades as more local residents became infected, the San Antonio Express-News reports. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District reports that 2,162 people in Bexar County have died of AIDS-related illnesses since the first case was diagnosed in 1982. Currently, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 county residents are HIV-positive. But even when AIDS "became a household word" in San Antonio, local response to the disease "lagged," with fear, ignorance and homophobia playing "as much of a role in that response as the low numbers of deaths."
The Pace Quickens
When county deaths reached 28 in 1985, the health district began an HIV Prevention Program and appointed former priest John Flavin as its coordinator. Flavin said, "The first response to AIDS came from friends and family," and then gay bar owners led the initiative to prevent the disease by distributing free condoms in bars and raising funds for AIDS. The San Antonio Tavern Guild, Red Cross and the health district formed an anti-AIDS task force to "deal with issues surrounding" HIV/AIDS, and one gay bar owner converted a back room of his bar into a small hospice for people with AIDS. The hospice soon outgrew the bar and the county-owned Brady Green Clinic became "ground zero" for diagnosing and treating AIDS cases. Ruth Peyton, appointed as the clinic's community liaison for HIV/AIDS, said that several local churches have helped efforts by providing assistance for rent, bills and food for HIV-positive individuals, noting that many had been abandoned by their families or were too sick to work. The death rate from AIDS-related illnesses peaked at 336 in 1993 but has slowly declined with the introduction of antiretroviral therapy (Gutierrez-Mier, San Antonio Express-News, 7/29). For more information on HIV/AIDS in Texas, visit State Health Facts Online.