Jacksonville Battles AIDS, Apathy; as Drugs Have Improved Treatment of the Deadly Disease, the Fear Factor Has Seemed to Wane

Article excerpt

Byline: JENNIFER CHILDRESS, The Times-Union

Curtailing the spread of AIDS will require reaching a new generation -- especially minorities -- and an at-risk population for which the fear of the disease has gradually waned, health officials say.

That is especially an issue in Jacksonville, where last year the Centers for Disease Control logged more cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea than anywhere else in the state.

High rates of other sexually transmitted diseases are often followed by elevated rates of AIDS and its precursor, HIV, said Christopher Bates, deputy director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.

Bates is in Northeast Florida this week to attend the AIDS Summit of Jacksonville, which has drawn about 300 people from health care workers to clergy members.

In Florida, AIDS has become the main cause of death among 22- to 44-year-old African-Americans, according to the Florida Department of Health. Other minority communities have seen sharp increases in the number of new infections as well, according to the department.

The problem, Bates said Wednesday, is that education programs are not having an effect on those groups.

"If we don't speak in the language they use, they can't listen," he said. "We have to put the message where people are. We lose our opportunity to connect."

The CDC estimates about 300,000 people in the United States are HIV positive and don't know it.

Part of the battle is against misperceptions about the disease, especially among younger people, who Bates said tend to tune out because they think AIDS is curable or can be overcome.

There is no cure for AIDS.

Advances in medical technology and new retroviral drugs can ease the pain of those with HIV. Although 40,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, improvements in treatment can lead to a longer life -- which has made the public face of AIDS seem less grim and less in the public attention, said Gene Copello, executive director of The AIDS Institute, a national research and advocacy organization.

Much of the effort against the epidemic will be focused globally.

The Bush administration recently created the Office of Global AIDS as part of the State Department. Office secretary Joseph O'Neill will coordinate the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a fund designed to treat and prevent AIDS in African and Caribbean countries.

In January 2003, Bush pledged to spend $15 billion in the next five years to fight global AIDS, including a proposed $2.7 billion in the upcoming fiscal year. He also increased funding for several domestic AIDS organizations.

African-American and Latin-American populations have increasingly higher rates of infection.

By addressing the disease from a global perspective, a nation can protect itself, Bates said. …

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