Officials to assess AIDS work

January 11, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Howard County has made progress in the fight against AIDS, but needs to do more to help AIDS patients and to educate minorities and others at high risk of contracting the disease.

That's the view of Jim Mundy, chairman of the county Board of Health, who tonight will deliver the first formal assessment of the county's AIDS prevention, education and outreach programs.

"I think we've had successes [but] there's still some places we need to work on," said Mr. Mundy, who will join Dr. Joyce Boyd, the county health officer, in addressing the annual meeting of AIDS Alliance of Howard County.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

In the two years since a county task force issued detailed recommendations on how to combat AIDS, the county has set up a support group for the family members of AIDS patients and a medical clinic for HIV-infected residents.

But the county has yet to establish assisted-living programs for AIDS patients or significantly increase AIDS awareness among minorities, said Mr. Mundy, whose seven-member board advises the county health department.

"To some degree, we have a long way to go," said Mr. Mundy, specifically citing political resistance to AIDS education in schools.

Between January 1985 and September 1993 in Howard County, there have been 95 documented AIDS cases, according to the county health department. During that time, 56 people died from the disease.

In March 1991, County Executive Charles I. Ecker set up a 42-member task force to draft a countywide AIDS plan. The group included representatives from Howard County General Hospital, Hospice Services of Howard County, county schools and police.

Among the moves made as a result of the group's December 1991 recommendations:

* The "Buddy Program," begun last spring, which pairs patients with volunteers who provide emotional support, transportation and other services to those with AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

* The Seropositive Evaluation Clinic, which also began last spring, providing medical evaluations and referrals for HIV-infected patients who have difficulty finding medical care.

* A support group for family and friends of those who have AIDS and HIV, begun last year by the Family Life Center, Inc., a nonprofit counseling center in Wilde Lake.

In addition, the Pastoral Care Department of Howard County General Hospital offers a bereavement group to assist parents and family in coping with grief when a family member dies from AIDS.

Limited success

But the county has had limited success in promoting AIDS education among blacks, who represent a disproportionate number of AIDS cases.

Locally, blacks represented nearly 33 percent of all AIDS cases between January 1985 and September 1993. The 1990 census put the county's black population at 11 percent.

"We're trying to reach the minority community, especially minority women, because more women are being infected," Dr. Boyd said.

The county health department has been able to reach some minority residents through schools, drug-abuse prevention programs and maternity clinics that offer HIV testing.

But efforts to contact black churches, sororities and other organizations have been largely unsuccessful.

"I got a lot of answering machines," said Jennifer Blumberg, an AIDS educator with the county health department who initially called several area churches last winter.

Public health officials say some sororities and churches are eager to discuss AIDS but haven't found time to do so because they are coping with other social issues.

But other minority institutions are leery of government officials offering information on the epidemic, health officials say.

"There's a distrust of government," Ms. Blumberg said. There's a feeling among minorities that the government "is not telling us everything about AIDS."

Instead of asking for outside help, some black churches have started their own AIDS-prevention and education programs.

At St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church in Columbia, a 10-member committee of doctors, nurses and other health professionals provides AIDS prevention education and spiritual guidance to the 700-member congregation.

"I think it ought to be important to every church," said the Rev. Robert Turner, referring to AIDS education.

At Payne AME Church in Jessup, the Rev. Deloris Prioleau has begun workshops and rap sessions where church members can discuss AIDS and other social issues.

The intent "is to make people aware that we've had some victims of HIV," Ms. Prioleau said. "It's an ongoing process and we're not isolated."

Health officials and AIDS activists also say the county needs to increase its stock of low-cost housing for AIDS patients, many of whom are too ill to work. The wait for such housing can be up to two years or more, said Dr. Boyd.

"That's not realistic for a person who's ill," she said. "They could be dead in two years."

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