Report on HIV ‘Hot Spots’ in Palm Beach County, Fla., Gets Cool Reception From Political Leaders
A study on HIV "hot spots" in Palm Beach County, Fla., conducted by the national Rapid Assessment, Response & Evaluation project, has not been well received by county officials, who are worried about the stigma associated with being known as an HIV "hot spot" and the acquisition of funding for some of the study's recommendations, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. The RARE project focused on four zip code areas in Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Riviera Beach and Belle Glade that accounted for nearly 40% of the county's HIV cases between 1997 and 2000. Poverty, drug use and unprotected sex were problems in all of the areas, while language barriers were most problematic in Lake Worth and Delray Beach. A "constant influx" of Caribbean immigrants, mostly from Haiti, challenged HIV/AIDS work in Delray Beach, as most lacked the ability to speak English or French and spoke Creole instead. Most people who speak Creole, which only recently became a written language, are also unable to read pamphlets written in the language. "Rampant" prostitution and illegal drug use hindered HIV/AIDS efforts in Belle Glade and Riviera Beach. Researchers also found that immigrants were reluctant to go to the health department clinic in Riviera Beach because it is located next to an INS office. The report recommends that local agencies work together on HIV/AIDS efforts and advocates an expansion of medical services, concentrating on making such services "easily available" in the problematic neighborhoods. The study also recommends distributing condoms, sterile syringes and wound-care items, designing prevention and treatment programs with cultural needs in mind, linking substance-abuse programs with HIV/AIDS services and targeting substance-abuse prevention to minorities. The report advocates that officials continue "street-level" testing efforts and ensure that HIV-positive prison inmates continue HIV treatment after their release.
A 'Politically Explosive' Idea
The report -- which relied on interviews conducted by Guatemalans, Haitians and African Americans who spoke the languages used in the communities -- was "coldly" received by the county commissioners, many of whom feared the "AIDS hot spot" label would be detrimental to their communities. Commissioner Addie Greene said she was "suspicious" of the authors. "I just don't want to blow it out of proportion. I don't know you [but] ... I don't see a Haitian up here. I don't see a Nicaraguan, I don't see a Jamaican," she said at the report's presentation. Commissioner Carol Roberts said the county commission is "extremely sensitive to the word 'funding'" and noted that the county is currently "looking at a lot of problems." Lead investigator Dr. Karen Dodge said that RARE reports conducted in 10 other communities have been similarly received. "It's a delicate political situation whenever money is involved -- these are precious resources and there just isn't enough money to go around. And this is a sexually transmitted disease, so it's difficult to discuss even in the best of circumstances," she explained. Larry Leed, deputy executive director of the Comprehensive AIDS Program of Palm Beach County, said he was not surprised by the report and added that it should "prove helpful" for securing grants. "We have three- to four-month waiting lists for people to get into case management. We're supposed to be out there, getting people tested and into medical care. But then we're not able to get them into services because we don't have enough dollars," he said (Singer, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 2/27).