After 2-year gap, panel reviews state’s AIDS rate
With HIV diagnoses on the rise in Louisiana, a commission formed to advise the governor on the virus met Wednesday for the first time in more than two years.
The Louisiana Commission on HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C reviewed sobering statistics and discussed its future despite failing to muster a quorum.
Among the points made in the meeting: The latest figures put the Baton Rouge metropolitan area as first and the New Orleans metropolitan area as fifth in the rate of AIDS cases nationwide.
The statistics show new diagnoses of human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, are increasing in Louisiana. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome allows often fatal conditions to grow.
The distribution of the number of people infected also is spreading from the metro areas to touch other parts of the state. Shreveport and Lafayette rank behind New Orleans and Baton Rouge in the number of new HIV diagnoses and rates.
- 18,502 people in Louisiana were living with AIDS or HIV as of June 30. Of those, 54 percent have AIDS.
- The number of people newly diagnosed with HIV in Louisiana increased by 12 percent from 2010 to 2011.
- Seventy-one percent of the newly diagnosed HIV patients were men. Seventy-four percent were black.
“There is no magic wand where this commission can go and find some money to get something done. But this commission is comprised of members who have a lot of experience ... Here we brainstorm to figure out what is best for our state,” said Raman Singh, the commission’s chairman.
DeAnn Gruber, administrative director for the Louisiana Office of Public Health STD/HIV Program, said the commission needs to determine its role.
“It’s definitely time, it’s past time, that we get together,” Gruber said.
Some progress was made in the gap between the commission’s meetings.
Late last year, Louisiana had one of the longest waiting lists in the nation for people waiting to receive medication through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. ADAP leverages state and federal funds to help those who are HIV positive and who do not have private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.
The services manager for the STD/HIV Program in New Orleans, Kira Radtke Friedrich, told the commission an infusion of federal funding helped the state whittle down the waiting list to 41 people.
A significant percentage also was found to be ineligible for ADAP once they were screened for the program, Friedrich said.
“ADAP is a payer of last resort. We’re happy in many ways that our clients were able to access other resources,” she said.
People can be found ineligible because of incarceration, income and third-party insurance.
Still, Friedrich said, new cases are being added to the waiting list.
The assistant director of the Division of Human Development and Services for Baton Rouge, Sylvia Andrews, said her office is continuing to see a rise in HIV and AIDS cases. DHDS manages grant programs for vulnerable populations.
Her office saw a 6 percent increase in funding for the 2012 fiscal year, Andrews said, with awards climbing to $4.3 million.
Since the commission last met, she said her office sought peer counseling from its counterpart in Houston.
The office is working on multi-year contracts that minimize the interruption of services, Andrews said.
At the end of the meeting, Singh said the commission could make a good start at tackling issues by meeting on a regular basis.