Leaders Attending Southern HIV/AIDS Conference Issue ‘Call to Action’ For Southern States
HIV/AIDS directors from 13 states and the District of Columbia yesterday in Tampa, Fla., at the close of a conference on HIV/AIDS in the Southern United States released a "call to action" plan for the Southern states, detailing obstacles standing in the way of curbing the spread of HIV, the Miami Herald reports. The challenges include a lack of access to services, increased rates of other sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS stigma and chronic shortages of drugs in treatment programs. Health officials attending the conference, which was sponsored by Florida AIDS Action, said that new HIV/AIDS cases reported in the last two years have "stretched" public health systems and drug programs in the region "beyond capacity." In addition, a severe shortage of health care providers and facilities has made the problem worse, particularly in rural areas, Robert Greenwald, a Massachusetts HIV/AIDS advocate, said (Robinson, Miami Herald, 12/5). According to CDC figures cited in the "Southern States Manifesto," written by HIV/AIDS directors from various states and presented at the two-day conference, more than 130,000 people in the South have AIDS, compared to about 100,000 in the Northeast, 36,000 in the Midwest and some 62,000 in the West. Still, the region is behind other areas of the nation in federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs, according to the AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
Dr. Gene Copello, Florida AIDS Action executive director, said that Florida receives about 5% of the country's prevention funds, but has nearly 12% of the country's AIDS cases (La Corte, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 12/5). He added that the epidemic in the South is "mirroring" the HIV/AIDS epidemic in some developing nations and "needs to be addressed" (Miami Herald, 12/5). "We intend to be very loud about it and very forceful because our people are dying all over the South," Copello said. He also said the group has developed a "twofold approach" that includes advocating for "fair funding" for Southern states and for a "core set of services that can be offered to anyone" with HIV or AIDS, according to the AP/Sun-Sentinel (AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 12/5). Last month, at the "Southern States Summit on HIV/AIDS & STDs," sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, the foundation issued a report, titled "HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Southern Region of the United States: Epidemiological Overview," which found that the estimated number of new AIDS cases rose in the South between 2000 and 2001, while the number of new AIDS cases declined or stabilized in other U.S. regions. At the conference, the foundation also released a report, titled "Sources of Coverage and Care for People with HIV/AIDS in the United States: Assessing Coverage in Southern States," that examined the financing and programs available to people living with HIV/AIDS in the region (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/13).