Baltimore's HIV/AIDS Crisis

Baltimore's HIV/AIDS Crisis

Illustration by Isaac Kaminsky

Local, Renowned Medical Institutions Absent in the Face of an Epidemic HIV/AIDS affects millions of people world wide, but in the US, Baltimore is ranked second for HIV/AIDS rates, with over 16,000 known cases in our city. The Baltimore City Commission on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment believes that at least another 6,000 residents are currently infected with this disease but have not been tested, either because they refuse to be, or lack the proper knowledge. Baltimore has a unique history when it comes to HIV/AIDS. The city’s residents make up a slim 15% of Maryland’s population, yet account for over 50% of the State’s HIV/AIDS cases. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that African Americans account for only 28% of Maryland’s population, yet in 2002 made up 89% of HIV/AIDS infected persons here. The 2004 Maryland HIV/AIDS report has documented that in some Baltimore neighborhoods HIV rates rival those of some regions of sub-Saharan Africa, which happen to have the highest numbers of people infected with the virus in the world. Baltimore is filled with poverty stricken neighborhoods where intravenous drug use and the sex trade industry have become a way of life for many. African Americans in the city have become significantly vulnerable to the disease. Young people are another large at risk group because they remain uninformed about HIV/AIDS and the proper ways in which to protect themselves. As recently as this past November, a local and internationally acclaimed clinic, HERO (The Health Education Resource Organization), closed its doors. HERO, whose slogan "HIV affects everyone" serviced over 3,000 clients and was one of Baltimore's largest and oldest nonprofit clinic's and support centers. Financial instability led to HERO's recent closed doors.(1) HERO welcomed people that others did not for 25 years. Where will their thousands of clients go now? Who will they turn to? Maryland has definitely done its part in the realm of aids research, both in the social and medical worlds. Baltimore is filled with universities from Johns Hopkins to Morgan State University, who have all done their share in adding knowledge to the mixture. The University of Maryland, School of Medicine's Institute of Human Virology contains some of the world's leading AIDS researchers. In 2003, they hosted 500 of the world’s top AIDS researchers and scientists to discuss the epidemic in Baltimore. Yet, in the midst of all this research the HIV/AIDS as a local epidemic only continues to worsen. These numbers have soared so high that in 2002, The Baltimore City Commission on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment called Baltimore's epidemic a “state of emergency”. Since 2002, the number of citizens in the community affected by HIV/AIDS has only risen. The majority of Baltimoreans affected by this disease are poverty stricken, minorities, who cannot afford the health care and information provided by Baltimore’s leading medical and research institutions. Many of the people who have become infected are also drug users or sex workers that are often turned away or do not know where to find the help they need. To address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Baltimore needs to take a step back and focus on itself and its residents. Great HIV/AIDS research and information has come out of this city, yet Baltimore has one of the highest populations infected with the disease. What does this say about our priorities as a city. Others are not going to look to Baltimore for guidance until it sets an example worth following. The causes for the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in Baltimore must be addressed. The city needs to figure out how to deal with some of these core issues, then focus on broader problems. If only one of these issues is greatly reduced in Baltimore city, the number of those infected with HIV/AIDS will decrease. If the amount of intravenous drug users is cut down (or regulated?), there will not be as much sharing of needles, ultimately reducing the likeliness of people contracting this disease. It is vital to focus on HIV/AIDS, but not without bringing visibility to how and why certain groups are effected while others are not. Education is the key to stopping the spread of this disease, and reducing the stigma associated with it. Comprehensive age-appropriate AIDS education should be taught in schools. Often parents and teachers alike fear that if sex and AIDS education are taught in schools, their children will be prone to have sex and/or contract the disease, but studies have shown quite the opposite. Education will only inform children of risky behaviors and how to protect themselves. It will teach them to fear the disease and not the people who have it. Education for adults and community members outside of schools is equally important. Religious institutions in particular can have a great impact in educating the community. Finally, those already infected need to be educated as well. Learning to live with HIV/AIDS—how to not spread the disease to others and remain a happy and healthy member of society. South Africa, one of the worlds’ most infected countries, with about 5.7 million people living with HIV (avert.com), has realized the power of education, especially educating the youth about HIV/AIDS. South African Sesame Street, known as Takalani Sesame, has added a HIV-positive Muppet, named Kami to the show. Kami is meant to educate children about HIV/AIDS without scaring them, as well as to promote acceptance and reduce stigma surrounding the disease. South Africans believe this has really helped their youth understand the epidemic. Baltimore needs to come up with a system in which they focus on the city before the rest of the world. It needs to inform and educate its citizens. Baltimore's leading research institutions should focus on reducing HIV/AIDS rates in Baltimore. This city would become a healthier city by setting a new precedent for treatment and prevention of one of the world’s greatest public health challenges to date, It could be a city that others look to for advice. 1. (Bykowicz, baltimore sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-md.ci.hero24no...).