Initiative aims to increase HIV testing, counseling

Incidence of disease rising in Northwest Baltimore

November 30, 2001|By Diana K. Sugg | Diana K. Sugg,SUN STAFF

Hoping to stem the skyrocketing number of new HIV cases in Northwest Baltimore, politicians, health officials and community leaders are launching a wide-ranging initiative today so that more residents are tested for the deadly virus and counseled.

The plan includes new testing sites and drug treatment slots, as well as tapping such resources as churches, anti-crime programs and social service agencies.

The Maryland Partners PUSH Campaign (Partners United to Stop HIV) is spending what some consider a modest sum on the problem - about $90,000 - and the ideas are not new.

But observers say the effort, which Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, are announcing in conjunction with World AIDS Day, which is tomorrow, is a significant step to turn around dismal statistics. Every year for the past five, state figures show, Northwest Baltimore has shown an average 35 percent increase in new HIV infections, or about 55 new cases.

"We're seeing a trend that's only going in one direction," said Dr. Liza Solomon, director of the state's AIDS administration. She noted that this one area, extending roughly from Sandtown-Winchester northwest through Park Heights, accounts for the statewide increase in HIV cases.

Maryland, and Baltimore in particular, have been among the hardest hit HIV areas in the country, and officials estimate that up to 6,000 city residents have HIV and don't know it.

With the new campaign, five new HIV testing and counseling sites will be established in the city, including two in Northwest Baltimore - one at the Department of Social Services office and another at the Department of Parole and Probation's Mondawmin Mall office. Thirty-one drug treatment slots in the city will be earmarked for people with HIV and AIDS. The AIDS Administration will train about 40 parole and probation officers, as well as 80 staffers in the four HotSpot anti-crime teams, to make HIV counseling a routine part of their work.

Also, as part of the campaign, the city's 14 methadone clinics soon will provide free HIV testing and counseling, and 50 city churches will distribute prevention information in their bulletins. Officials hope during the next six months to boost HIV testing in Northwest Baltimore by 20 percent, or an additional 4,000 people.

Information about HIV/AIDS and testing: 800-638-6252.

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