HIV/AIDS: South struggles against rising problem

Not enough funding, doctors, education to fight growing problem

April 13, 2009
by Dahleen Glanton
Chicago Tribune

"People are scared in the South. They don't really understand that this is a disease," said Holt, 44, who has begun to speak out about HIV prevention to students and other women. "They are either too religious to open up or they don't want the stigma."

It is an attitude that health-care professionals have battled for almost a decade while HIV/AIDS skyrocketed in rural Southern communities, particularly among African-Americans. With too few doctors, staggering poverty and a history of inadequate AIDS education programs, the South is now home to half of the 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, according to the Southern AIDS Coalition, which is composed of health professionals.

The Obama administration said last week that it would refocus attention on HIV/AIDS in America, spending $45 million over five years on television and radio ads, transit signs and other efforts to promote education and prevention.

A new study by the Trust for America's Health found that during the economic downturn, Midwestern and Southern states are receiving the least federal funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spend on public health, including AIDS. Illinois, for example, received $16.66 per person in 2008, compared with $52.78 per person in Alaska. And with most states facing severe budget shortfalls, health professionals fear public health could take a hard hit.

"Some states have significantly less money to engage in disease prevention in their communities and either the state will have to make up the difference, which is hard to do in these economic times, or there will be harsh outcomes," said Jeff Levi, executive director for the trust. "Without equitable spending across the country, where you live will determine how well you live."

Levi said reasons for the CDC funding disparities include lack of money available to the CDC and states failing to aggressively apply for all available funds.

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