LOS ANGELES COUNTY: AIDS Emergency Declared
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously declared an "AIDS emergency" for the county's minorities yesterday. The move is intended as a "largely symbolic action" intended to underscore the dearth in federal and state funds earmarked for medical care and social services in minority communities. Supervisors warned that the county has "failed to stem the rapid spread of AIDS in minority communities," even as African Americans and Latinos account for 68% of all newly diagnosed HIV cases, the Los Angeles Times reports. County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwait Burke, who pushed for the emergency status, said, "The problem has moved from the male homosexual as the center of those who are being infected by HIV and AIDS to women, to minorities and to heterosexuals." African-American and Latino activists have long said the "decision-making power and funding have been slow to adjust to the changing demographics of the epidemic," arguing that many programs are modeled on initiatives successful in the gay community. The board's move comes one day after a Los Angeles Times two-part series showing that areas populated by minorities have a serious AIDS housing shortage. Dr. Eric Bing, head of HIV/AIDS services and King/Drew Medical Center, said that without "access to adequate health care and prevention," AIDS patients from minority neighborhoods are forgoing early intervention and are "arriving at county clinics and hospitals acutely ill." Dr. Chuck Henry, director of the county office of AIDS Programs and Policy, told supervisors yesterday that from 1991 to 1998, the proportion of AIDS cases among Latinos increased from 26% to 43%, while the proportion of cases among African Americans increased from 15% to 25%. Among whites, the proportion dropped from 55% to 30%. Warning against complacency, Henry urged the county health department to "challenge the perception that medical advances have stemmed the AIDS epidemic." Activists from minority communities told the supervisors that education and prevention programs "must be tailored to different racial and ethnic groups and must break down cultural taboos against the discussion of sexually transmitted diseases."
HHS to the Rescue?
The supervisors plan to send a letter to HHS and the state Department of Health Services asking for "appropriate funding ... to increase and sustain HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment services in ... communities severely impacted by the disease." Calling Los Angeles County's AIDS crisis a "very serious situation," Vanessa Baird, acting chief of the state's Office of AIDS, said the county's request will be considered. While HHS could not comment on the emergency declaration, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Melissa Skolfield noted that HHS Secretary Donna Shalala had been working with the Congressional Black Caucus to secure $150 million to help local communities like Los Angeles County (Rabin/Stewart, 9/29).