Md. to take over count of city's HIV patients

Health commissioner Beilenson says his office has done inadequate job

January 25, 2001|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Acknowledging that his office has done a poor job of counting the number of people in Baltimore infected with the virus that causes AIDS, the city's health commissioner has turned responsibility for that task over to state health officials.

"I'm not confident we're doing it adequately," Peter L. Beilenson told a City Council committee last night. "If they can do it better, count the cases better, it's no skin off our back. "

Beilenson's comments were made during a public hearing on the spread of human immunodeficiency virus, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, that was called by the council's Housing, Health and Environment Committee.

Council President Sheila Dixon said she is concerned that the city is not looking at the spread of HIV and AIDS as a crisis and has not made it a priority.

The hearing focused in part on a report issued in October by the Maryland AIDS Administration, an agency of the state Health Department. The report was highly critical of the city Health Department's monitoring of HIV/AIDS cases.

The report found that the city is underreporting AIDS cases, as well as cases of exposure to HIV, and warned that the failure could cost Baltimore as much as $1.8 million in federal funds.

Beilenson told council members that the inadequate counting has not led to a loss of federal funds but said he was concerned it could happen if the problem is not corrected.

He said the state agency is responsible for counting and reporting the number of HIV/AIDS patients for all counties in Maryland, but not for Baltimore City and is in a better position to do the job than his agency.

For that reason, Beilenson said he has agreed to let the state agency take over the function for 18 months.

Beilenson said his office is focusing a lot of attention in the areas where it believes it can do most good - drug treatment and prevention. He said the city's needle exchange program is helping to reduce the spread of AIDS.

Liza Solomon, director of the state AIDS administration agency, told council members that HIV cases are increasing at alarming rates in Baltimore, mostly among intravenous drug users.

Of 2,111 new HIV cases reported in Maryland in 1999, she said, 59 percent were in Baltimore, according to a report that Solomon presented to the council committee.

Jay Carrington Chunn, associate vice president for academic affairs at Morgan State University, called on council members to establish a commission on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment to develop a strategy for dealing with the problem.

"It has been estimated that we have as many as 18,000 HIV cases in Baltimore," Chunn said.

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