The per capita rate of new AIDS cases in New Orleans and Baton Rouge rank among the highest for cities across the nation, according to 2011 data from the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
The Baton Rouge metropolitan area, for the second year in a row, has the highest per capita rate of new AIDS cases in the nation, according to 2011 data from the CDC, while New Orleans ranked fourth.
Baton Rouge has a rate of 29, which means 29 people out of every 100,000 of population were diagnosed with AIDS in 2011, the report says.
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 Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Livingston and St. Helena.
Miami was ranked second with a rate of 28; Atlanta was ranked third with a rate of 27; New Orleans was ranked fourth with a rate of 25 and Baltimore was ranked fifth with a rate of 24.
The Baton Rouge metro area ranked first in the country last year with a rate of 33 and second in the nation the year before that with a rate of 30.
“I’ve said this before. It’s not just Baton Rouge and Louisiana. It’s the South with most of top 10 Southern cities,” said Timothy Young, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two, Inc. or HAART.
“In the South you have issues with access to care and the insured versus the uninsured and poverty,” Young said.
The CDC report with the new rankings was issued at the same time it was announced that a baby born with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, appears to have been cured.
The child from Mississippi, who’s now 2, has been off medication for about a year with no signs of infection.
Scientists have said the case of the Mississippi child offers promising clues for efforts to eliminate HIV infection in children, especially in AIDS-plagued African countries where too many babies are born with the virus.
A doctor gave the baby faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth. That was before tests confirmed the infant was infected and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn’t diagnosed until she was in labor.
That fast action apparently knocked out HIV in the baby’s blood before it could form hideouts in the body.
Young said the Mississippi child’s case points to the importance of access to medical care.
“That child was provided medical care early on,” Young said.
Young also said he thinks the medical community needs to step up with universal HIV testing.
“We need broad HIV testing. With any medical procedure, a surgery or whatever, people should be tested so they know their status,” Young said.
Young said about 80 percent of the people in Metro Baton Rouge afflicted with the disease are black.
“But it’s not who you are, it’s about what you do,” Young said.
Young said the Baton Rouge metro area will continue to be in the top five list for AIDS diagnoses until men stop having unprotected sex with other men.
Shirley Lolis, executive director of the Baton Rouge Black Alcoholism Council Metro Health who has been working for more than 20 years in HIV/AIDS prevention in communities in and around Baton Rouge, said even though Baton Rouge continues to crop up in the top 5, she’s encouraged.
“Because more people are getting tested. We have more agencies now that do the testing. The problem is some people wait too long to get tested,” Lolis said.
HAART is the biggest provider of Ryan White CARE Act funded programs in the Baton Rouge area.
The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act is the largest federal program dedicated to providing care and treatment for people living with HIV. A key component of the public health safety net, it reaches hundreds of thousands of people every year with medical care, drugs, and support services.
Young said if the federal government ever decided to stop funding the Ryan White program, it would mean a loss of $4 million in services to the Baton Rouge metro area.
Hopefully, Young said, federal budget cuts won’t effect the Ryan White legislation.