More Federal Funding Needed To Address HIV Outbreak Among College Students, Southern State Officials Say
Federal officials have not increased funding for HIV prevention and testing efforts in the Southern United States despite the recent discovery of the first documented HIV outbreak among African-American college students in the region, local health officials say, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. CDC has said it does not have the money to conduct more widespread testing of college students in the region (Yee, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/10). North Carolina public health officials at the 11th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in February presented the findings of a study that showed an HIV outbreak among black male college students in North Carolina. Researchers found six HIV cases among male college students ages 18 to 30 in 2000, 19 cases in 2001, 29 in 2002 and 30 in 2003. Of the 84 total new cases during that period, 73, or 88%, were among black men, and 11, or 13%, were among white men (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/11).
Following the study release, North Carolina colleges -- particularly the state's 11 historically black schools -- have responded with more HIV testing and prevention education, Phyllis Gray of the North Carolina Department of Public Health and Human Services said (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/11). However, Dr. Peter Leone, HIV medical director at the North Carolina health department, said that the federal government has "done little" to address the outbreak and no additional funding has been given to Southern health agencies, according to the AP/Sun. He added, "I'm mortified more isn't being done. It suggests apathy at the federal level." Leone said, "There's no way we've diagnosed all the infections. We have every reason to believe there's continuing ongoing transmission."
Across the South
Approximately 12 HIV cases from the study were linked to college campuses in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., according to the AP/Sun (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/10). The researchers said that the cases "represent an outbreak with a distinct beginning and not simply a steady state of HIV transmission" because of the sharp increase in the number of new HIV cases "in just a few years." Lisa Hightow, lead researcher of the study, said, "We believe that this may not be unique to college students or to North Carolina but speaks more to transmission of HIV among young black men in the Southeastern states" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/11). However, Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, director of CDC's HIV/AIDS Research Initiative, who participated in the North Carolina study, said that many black people still view HIV as a disease that only affects white gay men and that some of the colleges in North Carolina where cases were discovered were angry that researchers were highlighting the issue. However, Fitzpatrick said that the only way to solve the problem is to discuss HIV/AIDS, which is "a challenge made more difficult because of a lack of adequate federal funding for HIV prevention," according to the Journal-Constitution (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/11).
CDC is "doing the best they can" for the region by providing technical assistance, planning more HIV surveys in North Carolina and establishing intervention programs for young black men who have sex with men, Fitzpatrick said, according to the AP/Sun. However, CDC said that it does not have the funds to launch widespread testing of Southern college students. The agency is calling on other states to conduct research to determine if there are similar outbreaks on other college campuses, Fitzpatrick said, the AP/Sun reports. She added, "Because of the way we pigeonhole people in this society, we don't think of college students as being at risk for HIV" and therefore "prevention efforts have not focused heavily on college campuses," which are "actually an important place to implement prevention activities." But she said, "The overall problem is that CDC funding has been cut. We need money from Washington to trickle down to us so we can help North Carolina" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/10).