Nationwide, the AIDS epidemic has been hitting minority communities harder than the rest of the population.
In 2001, ethnic minorities — which, collectively, make up about a third of the population — accounted for 64 percent of reported HIV cases, notes Carlos Velez, director of technical assistance, training and treatment at the National Minority AIDS Council in Washington, D.C.
“AIDS is just one more health disparity that has impacted disproportionately among minorities and disenfranchised people,” reports Velez.
The reasons behind the figures are complex, but can partly be traced to minorities not getting access to medical care or medical information, Velez explains. In North Carolina, the problem is compounded by a population in which many people are spread out in rural areas — and as a result, HIV rates aren’t concentrated enough to attract much federal funding, he says. In addition, the South has seen a resurgence of sexually-transmitted diseases.
Though service providers are likely to be well aware of the problem, a few statistics can illustrate the crisis for the rest of us. Here are some sobering facts provided by the Council, the nation’s largest organization working with communities of color in the war against HIV/AIDS:
• The N.C. Department of Health estimates that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 North Carolinians infected with HIV;
• Although N.C. is the nation’s 11th most populous, it ranks fifth in the nation in the number of reported HIV infections;
• While HIV infection rates are dropping elsewhere in the country, North Carolina’s rates are growing again after dropping in 1999 and 2000;
• The number of AIDS cases reported in North Carolina in 2001 increased 28 percent from 2000. In 2002, rates increased another 16 percent from the previous year;
• African-Americans made up about 68 percent of the reported HIV cases in North Carolina in 2002 — although they comprise only 21 percent of the state’s population;
• In 1990, African-American women represented 13.5 percent of all AIDS cases in the state, but by 2001 they represented 21.4 percent;
• The HIV rate among Native Americans in North Carolina is almost three times higher than among whites; and
• The HIV rate among Hispanics in the state is almost three times higher than among whites.
To help address the problem, the council is offering a week of free HIV/AIDS training sessions for service providers in North and South Carolina so they can do their jobs more effectively.
The sessions will run 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 5-9 at the Omni Charlotte Hotel, 132 East Trade St. in Charlotte. There are plenty of open seats, organizers say, and participants can register on-site. (For more info, call the AIDS Council at (800) 653-8144, or check out its Web site at www.nmac.org.)
— Tracy Rose