N.C. among top states for new HIV infections

When Esther Ross was diagnosed with HIV in 1993, she says her doctors told her she would die within six months. Because she was a drug user, doctors considered her a high-risk patient and refused to put her on medication, she says.

Ross, who was living in New York City at the time, eventually found a social worker who helped her get the medical care she needed. Eighteen years later, Ross is still alive.

Ross now lives in North Carolina. She says care for HIV and AIDS patients in New York City has greatly improved due to a city program that connects low-income people with HIV to medical care, food stamps, Medicaid and other resources.

Unfortunately, people in the South with HIV or AIDS can’t access many of these resources, even though the region, in particular North Carolina, has the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses and HIV-related deaths in the U.S.

These numbers are part of an analysis released last week by the Southern HIV/ AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI), which is affiliated with the Duke University AIDS Legal Assistance Project. The analysis is based on a 2009 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 35,000 people are living with HIV/ AIDS in North Carolina, where high rates of the infection are partly caused by the large number of rural areas, says Carolyn McAllaster, the director of the SASI project. Rural residents often have limited access to medical facilities and reliable transportation, she says.

The Triangle has more resources to help HIV patients than its rural counterparts. Both Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have infectious disease clinics, and the Duke AIDS Legal Assistance Project in Durham provides free legal help to low-income patients.

Read full IndyWeek article by Maggie Smith.

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