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Jul 3, 2010 5:11 PM by Chris Welty

Tour Sheds Light on Louisiana's High HIV-AIDS Rate

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - It's not something people like to talk
about, but Louisiana has one of the highest HIV-AIDS rates in the
country, and the problem particularly plagues the black community.
"This is something that needs to be discussed at every dinner
table, every school, every church," Dr. David Holcombe said last
week as the Test 1 Million Louisiana Celebrity Tour stopped in
Alexandria to provide entertainment and information about the
importance of HIV testing.
Holcombe, regional administrator and medical director of the
Office of Public Health's Region VI, was among those at the event
emphasizing the importance of getting tested for HIV.
The tour stop on Monday was part of the combined efforts of the
Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals' Office of Public
Health and the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. They are
sponsoring a series of events in Louisiana to encourage more people
to get tested for HIV.
Louisiana ranked fifth-highest in AIDS cases per capita in the
United States, according to Centers for Disease Control information
from 2007. Louisiana reported 20.5 AIDS cases per 100,000
population in 2007. That put it fifth behind Washington, D.C.,
148.1 cases per 100,000; New York, 24.9 cases; Maryland, 24.8
cases; and Florida, 21.7 cases.
New Orleans ranked second and Baton Rouge third for highest
rates of AIDS diagnoses among metropolitan areas in 2007. Miami
ranked first.
One of the focuses of the tour is to increase awareness and
encourage more testing among the black community in Louisiana,
Holcombe said.
African-Americans make up about 32 percent of the state's
population, but they made up 72 percent of new HIV cases and 70
percent of new AIDS diagnoses in 2008, according to the latest
information provided by the Office of Public Health's HIV-AIDS
program.
"This is a big problem, and unfortunately especially among
minorities," Holcombe said.
Another problem state health administrators are concerned about
is the prevalence of simultaneous HIV and AIDS diagnoses, said Jack
Carrel, prevention program manager with the Office of Public Health
HIV/AIDS Program.
About 50 percent of people diagnosed with HIV in the past few
years contracted it about 10 years prior, and the virus had already
developed into AIDS.
Organizations like the Office of Public Health and the Black
AIDS Institute point to HIV testing as the first step toward
treatment, officials at Monday's event said. To demonstrate the
efficiency of today's tests, Carrel underwent an oral and blood
rapid test, which provide results in 20 and 10 minutes,
respectively, rather than weeks of waiting that accompanied older
testing methods.
"People need to know their status," Carrel said. "We want HIV
testing to be part of your regular health care."
Treatments also have progressed in the last decade, including
more than 30 drug regimens that can help suppress the virus or
boost the immune system of a patient, said Charlie Baran, director
of programs for the Black AIDS Institute.
"Most people think an HIV diagnosis is a death sentence," said
Sandra Bright with Huey P. Long Medical Center's CD4 Clinic. "Our
focus is on the living."

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