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Jul 4, 2010 3:39 PM by Chris Welty

Baton Rouge Area Second in Nation in AIDS

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Baton Rouge metropolitan area ranks
second in the nation in AIDS case rates, and New Orleans is No. 3,
according to 2008 statistics released recently by the federal
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Miami ranks No. 1 in the nation, according to CDC data.
Sunday's Advocate reported that last year, the Baton Rouge metro
area ranked No. 3 in the nation for AIDS case rates, according to
the 2007 data.
The CDC uses the U.S. Census Bureau's Metropolitan Statistical
Area to define the Baton Rouge metro area. It consists of nine
parishes: East and West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville, Pointe
Coupee, East and West Feliciana, Livingston and St. Helena.
"My reaction is I'm not surprised. We were No. 3 last year and
there are many different reasons why we are so high," said Timothy
Young, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two
Inc., or HAART for short.
Louisiana is ranked fourth in the nation for its rate of AIDS
cases, according to the 2008 data.
DeAnn Gruber, interim administrative director of the state
Office of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Program, said the ranking is
nothing new and that the Baton Rouge metro area has ranked in the
top 10 for its percentage of AIDS cases for a decade now.
"Late testing is a major factor," Gruber said when asked why
the Baton Rouge metro area ranks so high.
Mayor-President Kip Holden said the HIV and AIDS problem in the
Baton Rouge metro area is a "monumental health problem."
"We have been consistently ranked in the top five and it's a
major problem here at home that continues to rear its ugly head,"
Holden said.
Jim Llorens, one of Holden's assistant chief administrative
officers, called the problem a "community issue" and not
something that any one agency can deal with alone.
"We need to make sure people are aware that testing is
critical. This (HIV/AIDS) is something we take very seriously,"
Llorens said.
Shirley Lolis, executive director of the Baton Rouge Black
Alcoholism Council Metro Health, has been working for more than 20
years in HIV/AIDS prevention in communities in and around Baton
Rouge.
"I think the number is high because we are identifying more
people and connecting them to services. When they get the services,
it's easier to count them," Lolis said.
Lolis said the rate is high in the Baton Rouge area because of a
combination of new cases and more testing.
Lolis said her group and HAART just received a CDC grant for
prevention programs and risk reduction plans in the Baton Rouge
metro area.
The two groups will receive $246,000 a year for five years from
the CDC to combat the disease, Lolis said.
State officials have said that part of the reason the Baton
Rouge metro area ranks high for AIDS cases is because there are
four prisons in three parishes in the metro area - Iberville and
East and West Feliciana.
AIDS cases in those facilities are counted by the CDC, and AIDS
rates are high in prisons.
Young said the people in the area who have problems with HIV and
AIDS do so because of a lack of access to health care, poverty and
late testing.
"There is still a stigma to the disease, so that can lead to
late testing," Young said.
Young has said risky sexual behavior and drug use are the
leading causes of the disease, while denial of that behavior and
denial of having HIV are part of the problem as well.
Although there is federal money available for prevention and
some treatment, the federal government has cut some AIDS drugs
funding, Young said.
Still, Llorens said, the Baton Rouge metro area receives about
$3 million a year from the federal government's Health Resources
Services Administration for outpatient services and HIV/AIDS drugs.

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