Now that the state AIDS administration has lowered its estimate of the number of HIV-infected people in Maryland, it appears that between 16,000 and 28,000 state residents are carrying the HIV virus. That's substantially down from earlier estimates that suggested as many as 60,000 people could be infected.
Unless a cure or vaccine is discovered, virtually everyone carrying the virus eventually will come down with full-blown AIDS, according to our present understanding of the disease. So the reduced figures are welcome news indeed. But it would be foolhardy to celebrate the finding.
The fact is, even if "only" 16,000 people develop AIDS over the next decade, caring for them will still burden the medical resources of Maryland -- and Baltimore in particular -- nearly to the breaking point. As it is, AIDS clinics are overflowing with patients now, and the epidemic is still in its infancy. To date, some 3,200 AIDS cases have been reported in Maryland, and more than 2,000 people have already died.
So at the very least we are looking at a five-fold increase in AIDS cases over the coming decade; at worst the epidemic could increase by a factor of 10. That is why this is no time to cut back funds for state AIDS programs. At best, the latest figures suggest that the state may have been given a bit more time to gird itself for the inevitable. The worst is still to come, however, and Maryland is going to have its hands full coping with the effects.