Virginia’s Eastern Region Has One of State’s Highest HIV Rates, Experts Say; Blacks Mostly Affected
In 2008, the Virginia Health Department's Eastern Region had a rate of 19 new HIV infections reported for every 100,000 residents, which is nearly twice the rate in Northern Virginia and higher than the state rate of 12 infections for every 100,000 residents, Newport News Daily Press reports. That same year, there were 332 new HIV infections reported in the region, which includes Hampton Roads, the Middle Peninsula and the Eastern Shore.
One in three of all HIV infections reported in Virginia is in Hampton Roads, which has a large black population, according to Edward Oldfield, director of Eastern Virginia Medical School's Center for the Comprehensive Care of Immune Deficiency. Between 2005 and 2007, the number of new HIV cases on the Peninsula increased by 10%, Oldfield said. The number of new cases in Norfolk increased by 50% during the same period.
Experts say that drug use and other high-risk behaviors are contributing to the spread of HIV in the area's black community. The region historically has had higher rates of sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, the Daily Press reports. High STI rates indicate that people are more likely engaging in activities that increase their risk for contracting HIV, Irma Hinkle, program director for AIDS Care Center for Education and Support Services, said.
"The population that is most at risk [is] the socioeconomically disadvantaged African-Americans," Robert Johnson, director of outbreak response with the state Health Department, said, adding, "We know from years of research that poverty leads to less access to health care, and it leads to less care about care."
Health care workers and HIV advocates in Hampton Roads are encouraging residents to speak openly about HIV, be tested and disclose their status. "The area is so deeply embedded in denial, both on the individual and the community level," Donald Walker, the HIV Early Intervention Services prevention supervisor for the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board, said. "It's those secrets that perpetuate the virus in this community," he said (Finneran, Newport News Daily Press, 1/23).