N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan and other Southern lawmakers Tuesday will discuss the problem of HIV/AIDS in the South, which has had the highest rates of infection in the country.
The region had the highest rate of new HIV infections per 100,000 people in 2009, and eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of new AIDS diagnoses, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data used in a 2011 study by Duke Universitys Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research.
In fact, 35 percent of new HIV infections in 2009 were in East Texas and eight Southern states, including the Carolinas, even though they accounted for only 22 percent of the countrys population, the study said.
The numbers are staggering, wrote Hagan, a Democrat who serves on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. We need to shine a light on this critical issue, and Im hopeful that this roundtable will be a substantial start.
In North Carolina, the state Department of Health and Human Services estimates that there were about 35,000 people living with HIV in 2010, including those who may be unaware of their status. In Mecklenburg County, there were almost 4,500 people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2010. In Wake County, there were roughly 2,600.
The 2011 Duke study concluded that high poverty levels, lack of insurance, culture and stigma are some characteristics of North Carolina and other Southern states that could explain the spread and impact of HIV in the region.
J. Wesley Thompson, a physician assistant with Rosedale Infectious Diseases in Huntersville, which treats HIV patients, said its difficult to prevent the spread of the disease when the stigma keeps people from talking about it.
I have patients that cant say HIV; they talk about their House In Virginia H-I-V, he said.
Washington-based AIDS United, which organized the roundtable discussion, noted in a report that there are only four HIV specialists in the Charlotte area who are credentialed by the American Academy of HIV Medicine. However, local health providers say there are many more qualified practitioners around.
By one measure, there are at least 17 provider agencies clinics and other organizations in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord area that offer HIV-related health and support services. These are agencies that receive Ryan White grants, which are federal funds intended to support HIV care.
But some in the field say that more still needs to be done to address the disease.
The Rev. Debbie Warren, founder, president and CEO of the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, said the Charlotte area needs more coordination and investment among many community groups and more prevention programs.
I definitely dont think enough is being done, she said.