This is a not something new. We have know for years that HIV/AIDS was becoming a real threat for rural, female, African-American and poor people.
This is not all the fault of the state (but plenty of blame does reside there). The CDC has never really EVER had a HIV prevention plan in place. When the CDC gets criticized or the HIV numbers don’t go down (or get worse) they throw ideas and plans at HIV prevention and then next year abandon this for the newest idea or plan that comes up.
Add to this the interference (CDC) at the highest levels of government (The White House) and our national fear of talking about sex or sex being referenced to some religious thought that says any sex is bad unless you are making more Christian babies (search this blog for CDC articles) and you have the national response for the past 25 years.
As far as Georgia is concerned we have only done what was absolutely required to address HIV after activists and the federal government forced the issue. There has not been any high level leadership on the issue from either party or political group.
The Division of Public Health is part of DHR and Governor Perdue hired B.J. Walker in 2004 to head up DHR mainly to deal with the Division of Families and Children Services (which is another thing we cannot ever seem to fix) and Walker did/does not know anything about Public Health or HIV. Walker has been too busy firing and replacing DFCS Division directors and ignoring the Mental Health Division issues (patients dying in the hospitals/feds coming to take it over etc) to do more than pay lip service to HIV.
At the same time in 2004 Purdue put Bruce Cook in as the Chairman of the DHR board whose job it is to oversee Walker, set budget and policy for all of DHR including the Division of Public Health. Cook owns “Choosing the Best”, an abstinence-only company and was finally removed because he was roundly criticized for doing business with Georgia’s Department of Education while serving as board chairman of DHR.
Cook constantly ran foul of the HIV community as he made false claims about condoms failure rates and other data concerning HIV. The AJC and Creative Loafing in Atlanta did many articles about him during 2004-2006 concerning his company and his “philosophy” and finally he got too hot for Perdue and was dumped and appointed to some obscure Mental Health Task Force committee (now, the Mental Health Hospitals are under federal investigation) and finally he disappeared from the radar for awhile.
Want to know how NOT to effectively deal with a disease that is spread through sex, drug needles and pregnant women?
Study HIV in this county and state.
Facts are things to be ignored- they just get in the way of our beliefs.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
HIV/AIDS has assumed a new face in Georgia.
It is younger and more rural, more likely to be black or female.
And it is harder to reach with prevention messages, testing and services.
Old messages geared to urban, white, gay men simply don’t resonate with many African-American and rural people, advocates say.
That worries the advocates.
The inability to reach those groups “is really a threat to everyone’s well-being,” said Clarence Reynolds, spokesman for AID Atlanta, the largest AIDS service organization in the Southeast. He said people who do not receive services and safe-sex counseling are more likely to spread the virus.
The number of Georgians living with HIV/AIDS jumped almost 27 percent from 2004 to 2007, to 32,740, reports the state Division of Public Health. The number of deaths has leveled off, as stronger drugs have allowed infected people to live longer.
Stigma for gays in rural and black communities, has often kept the issue out of churches and schools, advocates say.
An “unholy trinity” of silence, shame and stigma prevents many African-Americans from getting tested for the virus, said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Hartsel Shirley has felt that stigma firsthand. The 39-year-old southwest Atlantan was diagnosed with HIV years ago but a fear of being exposed kept him from seeking care, he said.
“If you’re black and a gay man, you’re not even looked at as a man,” Shirley said. “If you have HIV, you’re almost not human.”
By 2006, 71 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS in Georgia were black, although African-Americans are about 30 percent of the state’s population, according to state figures. Seventy-nine percent of Georgians diagnosed with HIV that year were African-American.
Rural and other areas outside metro Atlanta often have HIV/AIDS prejudice.
Frank Tant, who grew up in Rome, said his parents asked him to move out when, at 19, he told them he was gay. He has since moved back to Rome and sees better treatment of gay people.
He’s gotten overwhelming support since sharing his story in the local newspaper. “People in Rome think of me as Mr. HIV,” the 48-year-old said.
Lola Thomas, executive director of the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, said reaching gay men in rural areas, where they have few public gathering places, has proved so difficult that she all but gave up trying.
“We’ve stayed away from gay and bisexual men. They’re much more difficult to target,” Thomas said.
Instead, the Cartersville nonprofit has focused on emergency assistance, financial help, transportation and counseling for clients.
Frustrations abound, as mirrored in several recent national reports.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a revised estimate this month that 56,000 people nationally were newly infected with HIV in 2006, 40 percent more than previously estimated.
A report by the Southern AIDS Coalition said inadequate health care for HIV/AIDS patients in the rural South is a regional catastrophe. The Black AIDS Institute said if black America were a country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people with the virus.
Health officials are particularly concerned about the number of young people being infected. Many came of age after the AIDS ravages of the 1980s and early 1990s. As more effective drugs helped reduce the death rate, many young people saw it as a manageable illness rather than a death sentence, activists said.
“They see the drugs as a cure,” said Cathalene Teahan, president of the Georgia AIDS Coalition.
In Georgia, one-third of newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2006 were among 20-29 year olds, according to the state public health division.
Teahan said reaching young people in schools has been difficult since so much sex education in Georgia is abstinence centered.
“No one can use the word condom now,” she said.
But Bruce Cook, whose Atlanta company Choosing the Best provides abstinence-centered education materials to Georgia schools, said such instruction can be effective in leading young people to make the right decisions.
“The only way you eliminate risk is abstinence,” Cook said. “Condoms do break and they do slip off.”
The majority of HIV/AIDS cases still occur in metro Atlanta, where advocates say they see more women, particularly African-American women, with the virus.
Dazon Dixon Diallo, executive director of SisterLove, said her group has seen success by addressing the broader economic and relationship issues in many of these women’s lives.
“Ignoring women, young people of color, people in rural areas — we have done them a disservice,” said Diallo, whose Atlanta nonprofit works with African-American women.
Freda Jones got HIV from sex with a man she didn’t know had the virus. When she was diagnosed, the hairstylist did not tell her customers for years, afraid they would abandon her.
She said she pushed her boyfriend to get tested and he was positive, but he went into denial and refused care. It broke up their relationship.
She is now a peer counselor for people with HIV.
“It made me grow up,” she said. “I thought it couldn’t happen to me.”
Meanwhile, some advocates say the response of state and local governments has been inadequate. The state has done little to provide leadership and coordinate prevention efforts, advocates say.
“It is a disorganized mess,” said Kathie Hiers, community co-charwoman of the Southern AIDS Coalition.
Among rural county and municipal governments, HIV/AIDS “is not even on the radar,” said Thomas, with the AIDS Alliance. “Most government people here see it as a city problem.”
The state appointed a new HIV unit director a few months ago, and Raphael Holloway acknowledged that the agency needs to do better at reaching out to community advocates. At the same time, he said increasing services would be difficult at a time of budget cuts.
Still, state officials say they are making progress, increasing testing and working with community leaders to craft a comprehensive plan for the prevention of HIV in urban and rural areas.
But advocates say there’s a long way to go. Thomas said many of the men who come to her Cartersville office to get tested worry they’ll be seen and identified.
“Some are shaking in their boots,” she said, “and practically wearing disguises.”
Staff researcher Sharon Gaus contributed to this article.
Filed under: Africian American, CDC, Corrections and HIV, Gay, Georgia, Georgia Politics, Health Care Policy, Hispanic, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS Stigma, Mental Health, Poverty, Rural, Rural HIV/AIDS, STD, Substance Abuse, The South and HIV, The Southern States, Uncategorized