The independent news organization of Duke University

N.C. wrestles with AIDS prevalence

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. Despite the increasingly large effort to heighten AIDS awareness worldwide, the state of North Carolina is still affected by the disease.

North Carolina is ranked 11th in the U.S. for the number of living black AIDS cases according to the state's health report prepared by the health, law and policy clinic of Harvard Law School. Among all races, It has an estimated 35,000 people total living with the disease. An estimated 7,000 of those are untested and living unaware of their disease.

There are currently around 106 people on the waiting list for the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, said ADAP’s Communicable Disease Branch director, Jacquelyn Clymore, adding that North Carolina is one of thirteen states with a waiting list for AIDS treatment.

“Due to economic recession, loss of jobs and insurance and the continued diagnosis of new infections, the need for ADAP has outstripped the available funding, both in North Carolina and in many other states,” Clymore noted.

She said North Carolina is a “moderate” state for HIV/AIDS infection when compared to other states and territories.

Founder and director of the AIDS Legal Project and clinical professor of law, Carolyn McAllaster gave both circumstantial and demographic reasons as to why North Carolina has this AIDS infection rate. She said rural areas are at higher risk for AIDS prevalence and poverty-stricken areas often fail to seek testing a treatment.

McAllaster added that there is a stigma that interferes with people being tested for HIV/AIDS and following through with medical care. Additionally, she noted that reputation of the Triangle area might attract people who are seeking treatment for HIV/AIDS.

“One reason there are high numbers of people living with HIV Disease in the Triangle may be because of the availability of high quality medical care here, for example at Duke and [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill],” she said.

ADAP is open to all North Carolina residents who have income at or below 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, Clymore noted. The waiting list is open to those whose income is between 126 percent and 300 percent of the FPL.

“When new funds become available, people are moved from the waiting list in North Carolina onto active enrollment,” Clymore said. “300 people in North Carolina were moved from the list onto enrollment in October 2011, thanks to limited new federal funds.”

Clymore said ADAP is funded half by the North Carolina government and half by the federal government.

“North Carolina contributes fully half of the total budget, the other half comes from the federal funding,” she noted. “What is needed is a stronger response from the federal government, particularly since our National HIV/AIDS Strategy does call for both treatment for everyone and a reduction in the number of new infections.”

Major research universities in North Carolina and the federal government are working tirelessly, researching methods of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, said both Clymore and McAllaster. Clymore added that treatment for HIV/AIDS is quite good and is steadily improving.

“It is important to start treatment as soon as it is medically indicated, which we now believe is earlier than we used to think,” she said. “This is why it is so important to be tested regularly for HIV if you are sexually active…. Early treatment for HIV appears to suppress the virus very effectively, allowing people to live well and to live for a very long time.”


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