AIDS news isn't good, and not all have heard

December 02, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Not yours?" "Not mine," said Leon. He was standing on the parking lot that runs along Guilford Avenue beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, his stooped body wrapped in an old woolen blanket, and he stared at the ground yesterday morning and beheld an empty syringe lying by the rear right tire of a pretty nice car.

"You sure?"

"Not mine," he said, as though one syringe might have special markings indicating pride of ownership.

"I wonder whose," he was told.

"Some junkie's," said Leon. "Not mine, although I" ...

His words trailed off. He pulled his blanket tighter across his shoulders. His hands were raw and ridged. He'd spent the night on the ground by a concrete pillar and was still curled in the fetal position when working people started arriving in their cars yesterday morning.

Something roused him: the sound of engines, the wind knifing through him, the need for something warm in his system and he stood there now and said all his joints were a little stiff, and his nose began to run.

"Not mine," he said with certainty, nodding toward the syringe. Yes, he said, he'd used needles, "you know, once in a while," but not here on this parking lot, not last night, not that he could remember at this particular time.

It was a little after 9 in the morning. At this hour, in another world less than a mile from here, at University of Maryland Medical Center, there was more talk of needles, and of people such as Leon living on the street, living from one needle to the next, and picking up the various diseases in the careless use of such things, and all of this was mentioned as part of yesterday's commemoration of World AIDS Day.

The news around the world is not so good. Medical experts say they underestimated the spread of the AIDS virus, and they now believe that new infections are occurring almost twice as rapidly as they thought a year ago.

Instead of 8,200 new infections a day, they now believe there are 16,000. Instead of 22 million people with the virus, they now estimate 30 million people. And they think more than 2 million AIDS victims will die this year.

Around here, the doctors offer glimmers of hope. But the optimism doesn't particularly extend to places like Guilford Avenue beneath the Jones Falls Expressway, or neighborhoods where the drug traffic flourishes openly, or the shooting galleries of thousands of abandoned houses.

Across Maryland, the number of AIDS and HIV cases has begun to drop since 1993. Not much, but a few hundred cases a year. Much of this is because of sanity in the gay community, which was the first American group staggered by the disease. The warnings about safe sex have been heeded, and the annual number of new AIDS cases among gays has dropped.

Among needle abusers, the warnings fail to get through. The numbers go up and up. Across the state, blacks accounted for about 85 percent of the past year's reported new AIDS cases and at least half of these were directly related to drug abuse.

The state ranks fifth in the percentage of AIDS cases per 100,000 in the country, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Baltimore, with more than 50,000 hard-core drug abusers, an estimated 14,000 people are living with AIDS and, in the past two years, experts linked 80 percent of these cases to intravenous drug use.

"The AIDS?" Leon asked yesterday. "No, no, I haven't had nobody tell me nothing about AIDS."

But he didn't remember the last time he'd seen a doctor, nor the last time he'd particularly listened to warnings about drug abuse.

His health wasn't terrific, he said, but he was certain part of the problem was the trouble with the weather. The temperature was dropping, and the wind was miserable last night, and we've had so much rain lately it was tough to find a warm place to sleep. So naturally a man's health was going to take a beating.

Women's, too. Experts now talk of newly emerging problems, of children born to mothers with AIDS, who contracted the disease through needle use, who carried it through pregnancy and whose children struggle afterward.

And now these mothers are dying off and are leaving a trail of orphans behind.

L "No," Leon said yesterday, "I didn't hear nothing about it."

He meant, World AIDS Day. It was marked at the various health centers, and the numbers were circulated so everyone could see them.

But, in the places where used syringes lie on the ground, and people sleep in the cold because all available money goes into their arms, the message fails to arrive. And, in that silence, the numbers continue to rise and rise.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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