Maryland County Officials Create State’s First Suburban HIV/AIDS Commission
Anne Arundel County, Md., Executive John Leopold recently appointed 20 community leaders, government officials and health workers to serve on the county's first HIV/AIDS commission, which aims to understand and develop strategies for addressing the disease, the Baltimore Sun reports. The Sun reports the commission is believed to be the first of its kind in a suburban Maryland county and similar to a commission launched in Baltimore City.
Council member Daryl Jones in 2008 proposed legislation to create the commission, citing the increasing number of HIV cases in the northern part of the county, likely because of its close proximity to Baltimore. According to Jones, the commission aims to generate funds for testing and outreach services; address stigma associated with the disease; and heighten awareness of the virus among residents. The commission also will produce an annual report on HIV/AIDS-related issues in the county, Jones said.
Anne Arundel County had 1,000 recorded HIV/AIDS cases in 2006, with 56 newly reported HIV cases that year, according to the Maryland AIDS Administration. "It's pretty much what I would classify as having the potential to reach epidemic proportions," Jones said, adding that Baltimore has the second highest AIDS rate among major metropolitan areas in the country. According to Kelly Sipe Russo, a physician clinical specialist with the county health department's division of public health, the department has identified "hot spots" in the county with high HIV/AIDS rates, including the northern area and Annapolis. Russo noted that while HIV/AIDS rates in the county are not on the rise, they also are not declining, even with programs in place to increase awareness and provide help for those living with the disease.
According to the Sun, although resources and staffing are limited for many programs, health department officials still believe the programs are slowly having an effect and that more outreach is needed, especially for testing and treatment. Jones said that the economic downturn could lead more people to drug or alcohol use. He also noted that the stigma surrounding the disease is a major factor behind the creation of the commission. "Part of what the commission will address is figuring out ways to take away some of the fear factor" associated with HIV testing, he said.
The Sun also profiled Carolyn Massey, an HIV-positive woman appointed to the commission. She said that stigma associated with the virus still is widespread, adding, "I feel we're doing some of the right things the right way. HIV infection is something that does not have to happen" (Dixon, Baltimore Sun, 5/18).