Diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases and recorded deaths over 24 years (1984-2008) in the Coastal Health District’s service area (Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties)
• Total HIV/AIDS infection cases in adults or adolescents: 2,899
• HIV/AIDS infection cases in children younger than 13: 30
• Total HIV/AIDS-related deaths in adults or adolescents: 1,048
• HIV/AIDS-related deaths in children younger than 13: 18
• Three highest age-group totals at diagnosis:
Males (total 2,031)
Age 35-44: 718
Age 25-34: 635
Age 45-54: 347
Females (total 868)
Age 25-34: 281
Age 35-44: 261
Age 45-54: 141
• Three highest totals by race/ethnicity:
Black or African American (non-Hispanic): 2,155
White (non-Hispanic): 660
Hispanic, all races: 62
• Three highest transmission-type rates among reported types:*
Male-male sexual contact: 847 (male)
Heterosexual contact: 518
IV drug use: 417
*681 cases recorded with no risk factor reported
Source: Coastal Health District
Despite these efforts, Liberty County health officials continue to see victims among the population.
To continue combatting HIV and AIDS in Liberty County and coastal Georgia, the health district is marking AIDS Awareness Month with a public education campaign that includes free health screenings for residents.
So far, the department has shared information at an underage drinking town hall meeting and has provided free screenings and information in conjunction with the Liberty County Blazers Tip Off Tournament. Free screenings also will be offered during the Walk To Dorchester next Saturday.
In 2008, 142 diagnosed cases among adults and adolescents in an eight-county region were reported. The number of reported diagnoses has risen slowly since 2005, when reports dropped to 138 from a previous record high of 205 for the region.
Six deaths were reported in 2008, down from 11 the previous year and from 15 in 2006. The highest number of reported AIDS-related deaths came in 1992, at 131.
“The problem is, people are still not practicing proper prevention techniques,” said Susan Alt, director of HIV services for the Coastal Regional Health District. “Some of them are younger teens who aren’t following what we try to teach them.”
Alcohol and drug abuse also play a role, lowering inhibitions and causing people to make riskier decisions.
Alt said patients served by the health district’s clinics tend to be mostly minorities, though “when you look at district statistics, you’re seeing a skewed number” because the district targets uninsured and underinsured residents.
Still, among the district’s patients the highest percentage come from the African-American community, she said.
Another challenge to lowering HIV rates is how much people tend to trust their partners when it comes to sexual health. “It’s a blind trust that can be dangerous,” Alt said.
Diagnosis is just one part of a twofold approach to reducing HIV incidence in the region; people first must be tested to know if they’re infected in order to get treatment.
Alt said the fear of the unknown keeps many from knowing their status, along with a misguided belief that they can’t be treated if they find they are HIV-positive.
“There are people who don’t understand there are treatments out there and that these treatments work,” she said. “One of our challenges is we serve people who don’t normally have access to regular primary care, so they don’t know this is available.”
The Liberty Center at the local health district office provides such care and treatment to individuals, including medication for those who income-qualify, Alt said.
Coastal Health District’s HIV program offers comprehensive patient care and case management to individuals with HIV and AIDS. For more information on these services, visit www.gachd.org and click on services.
The awareness campaign stretches into July with more screenings at Teen Summit, hosted by Youth Expressions Leadership Program July 16-17 at Snelson-Golden Middle School. Groups who are interested in hosting a screening event should contact Raphaella McCrary at the health department, at 876-2173.
Alt said people should continue to practice proper prevention methods such as safe sex. “It’s important to know your status, and to be tested,” she said.