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AIDS Up in N.C. for Third Year; Infections Rise Among Poor Women, Blacks
  News & Observer (12.01.04)
Sarah Avery
2003 marked the third year in a row in which HIV/AIDS cases rose in North Carolina. A growing number of those infected were poor women and minorities. Thirty-two percent of the state's estimated 25,000 cases are female; 71 percent are black.
Heterosexual transmission accounted for 83 percent of new HIV infections among N.C. women in 2003; drug use for 11 percent. Men who have sex with men remain the predominant risk group.
In 2003, 2,100 new HIV/AIDS cases were identified in the state, yielding an infection rate of 25.2 cases per 100,000 residents. The fact that most of those infected are poor strains the public- health budget, said Evelyn Foust, head of the HIV/STD Prevention and Care Branch of the N.C. Division of Public Health. "All of our time and energy goes into care and treatment because this disproportionately hits minorities and poor people who do not have access to primary health care," she said.
Until September, more than 800 people were on a waiting list for HIV drugs through the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program. The needy patients were the working poor - those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but whose jobs do not offer health insurance. The cut-off for Medicaid eligibility is below $12,000. North Carolina's waiting list was wiped out when President Bush allocated $20 million to help ADAPs nationally, but continued federal money for the assistance program is shaky.
The three-year hike in new HIV/AIDS diagnoses represents a failure of public policy, Foust said, because little money is available for educational efforts to prevent infections. This leaves the state to buy expensive medications for people who missed the message that they were at risk.
"We have to treat people who are highly infectious, but that can't be at the expense of trying to do basic education in counseling and testing and outreach," Foust said.
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