U.S. adds $4.9 million to funds aimed at AIDS and minorities AIDS is No. 1 killer of young black adults, say experts at conference

September 18, 1998|By Erin Texeira JTC | Erin Texeira JTC,SUN STAFF

Responding to an outcry from black leaders that AIDS is the No. 1 killer of young African-American adults, federal health officials yesterday announced they will set aside an extra $4.9 million to address AIDS among minorities.

Yesterday, a group of more than 2,000 state lawmakers attending the 28th annual Congressional Black Caucus conference in Washington applauded the announcement -- but sought guarantees the funds would not be cut next year and renewed the organization's efforts to have the minority AIDS crisis declared a state of emergency.

"Overall, people were not booing or hissing," said Sandra Rattley-Lewis, a spokeswoman for the congressional caucus, "but it was still not the state of emergency. We have much more work to do."

Earlier this week, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators devoted its entire three-day conference in Washington to AIDS among African-Americans.

The increased attention from black leaders comes after years of grass-roots work against the disease.

AIDS has for nearly a decade been the top killer of African-Americans ages 25 to 44, according to statistics cited by physicians at the conference.

Blacks make up 63 percent of all new AIDS cases and, although blacks ages 13 to 19 make up only 15 percent of the nation's teen-agers they account for 58 percent of AIDS cases, according to Beny J. Primm, a physician who is vice chairman of the National Minority AIDS Council and who spoke at the legislators' conference.

Primm called this week's meetings a "very significant step as far as we're concerned."

"We have sounded the alarm in ways that have not been sounded before," said Rep. Maxine Waters, the California Democrat who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

The conference, which ends Sunday, also is addressing affirmative action, building links to Africa and the Caribbean, and the plight of black farmers.

The new federal funds will be distributed through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The money will help finance community organizations and focus on prevention services among minorities. The funds are in addition to $15 million allocated earlier this year as part of more than $250 million the Department of Health and Human Services spends on HIV services each year.

The incidence of AIDS among blacks is increasing, despite breakthroughs in treatment and declining rates among whites.

This is because African-Americans don't have equal access to ++ health care, said Dr. Keith Rawlings, a physician with the Southeast Dallas Health Center and chairman of the HIV committee for the National Medical Association.

"We have seen dramatic improvements in people who are able to access the most potent recent therapies," he said. But blacks, he said, do not have equal access to those treatments.

The Congressional Black Caucus and National Black Caucus of State Legislators also linked the mushrooming AIDS problem to blacks' disproportionately high rates of imprisonment and intravenous drug use.

Few acknowledge that illicit sex occurs in prisons, so protection such as condoms are not distributed, Primm said. He said resistance to giving drug users clean needles exacerbates the problem. Critics say needle exchanges promote drug use.

Baltimore has the largest needle exchange program in the country, with nine sites. In its four-plus years of existence, the program has exchanged more than 1.8 million needles, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's health commissioner.

Data show that the program decreases transmission of AIDS among intravenous drug users by about 40 percent, compared with those who don't exchange needles, Beilenson said.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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