Health Officials Having Difficulty Fighting High Rates of HIV/AIDS, STDs in Southern U.S. States
State and local health officials have encountered difficulty in fighting high rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in many Southern U.S. states, according to participants of the Southern HIV/AIDS Prevention Initiative conference in Atlanta, the AP/Macon Telegraph reports. The number of AIDS cases rose 27% in six Southern states -- Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina -- between 2000 and 2002, compared with an 11% increase in Midwestern states during that period. In North Carolina, the number of AIDS cases increased by 36% between 2001 and 2003. Southeastern states also have the nation's highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea. In many Southeastern states, high rates of poverty, poor health care services and low numbers of people with health insurance contribute to high rates of disease. "Things don't seem to be getting any better, even though we keep talking and working," Kate Whetten, a Duke University health policy expert, said, adding, "What we've done hasn't worked."
Health officials say the diverse -- and sometimes "silent and isolated" -- groups throughout the South make it difficult to provide HIV/AIDS and STD prevention and education, the AP/Telegraph reports. Hispanic populations, including immigrants who are sometimes "suspicious" of government assistance, sometimes are not being reached effectively, according to the AP/Telegraph. "There are cultural and linguistic challenges" to HIV/AIDS and STD prevention, Yolanda Rodriguez-Escobar, executive director of the San Antonio-based women and AIDS organization Mujeres Unidas, said, adding, "If prevention messages only are delivered in English, we will miss a group of people." Increased efforts also are needed to fight high STD rates among black women, according to The AIDS Institute Executive Director Gene Copello. In addition, men who have sex with men but who do not consider themselves gay or bisexual are difficult to target with prevention efforts. For young people, some groups are using innovative ideas, such as using hip-hop music, to disseminate messages about abstinence and safer sex as a way to avoid contracting STDs.
Pfizer Philanthropy in 2003 launched the Southern HIV/AIDS Prevention Initiative to reduce HIV prevalence in nine Southern states -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The foundation has provided more than $3 million in grants to community organizations working to fight HIV/AIDS (Yee, AP/Macon Telegraph, 5/10). Priority is given to small and medium-sized organizations that use "culturally appropriate" prevention messages to target "underserved communities that are disproportionately vulnerable to HIV/AIDS," according to the initiative's Web site (SHPI Web site, 5/11). Pfizer Chair and CEO Hank McKinnell said, "It's pretty clear that HIV prevention is as important or more important than what we can do to treat those with HIV," adding, "Instead of focusing on the cost of treatment, if we invested more in health (prevention), we'd all be better off" (AP/Macon Telegraph, 5/10).