Maryland Health Officials Announce 24% Decrease Since 1999 in Number of New West Baltimore HIV Cases
The rate of new HIV infections in West Baltimore -- the only area in Maryland where the incidence rate had been rising -- has dropped 24% since 1999, according to state health officials, the Baltimore Sun reports. The Maryland AIDS Administration attributed the decline to "stepped-up" prevention efforts, including a needle-exchange program, advertising campaigns and an increase in testing and treatment referral centers in the area, which has high rates of poverty, crime and injection drug use, according to the Sun. State-sponsored AIDS prevention efforts in West Baltimore intensified in 1999, when health officials realized that the number of new HIV cases in the area had on average risen 36% each year since 1994 and the increase in HIV incidence was distorting averages for the rest of the state, where new infection rates had been leveling off or declining. The prevention program has cost over $3 million a year, including $1.5 million in state funds and $1.5 million in federal and private grants.
Liza Solomon, director of the Maryland AIDS Administration, said, "This clearly says we can make a dent, that we can improve the health of our community. A 24% decline is quite dramatic. It's not just a percentage -- it translates into people's lives saved." Despite the progress, both state officials and community advocates said that HIV prevention efforts must continue in Baltimore, which has the third-highest rate of new AIDS cases in the country, behind New York and Miami. "It doesn't surprise me because there has been a concentrated effort over the last several years," Rev. Debra Hickman, director of the advocacy group Sisters Together and Reaching, said, adding, "But I have a concern: We can't let up." Solomon said that the news should not affect the city's state of emergency against AIDS, which was declared on Dec. 2 by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D). "I'm not declaring victory over HIV and AIDS," she said, adding, "We have a lot of problems" (Bor, Baltimore Sun, 12/19).