Preventing AIDS

The Baltimore Sun

Adisturbing increase in HIV/AIDS infection rates among young adults in Baltimore shows that they aren't getting the message that the disease is a killer. The city ranks second among urban areas in the country for new infections, and a recent report from the citywide HIV/AIDS Commission rightly emphasizes the urgent need for more and better-coordinated prevention efforts.

Over the past three decades, the effectiveness of HIV and AIDS treatments and medications have progressed enormously, as have prospects for those living with the disease. These advances may cause some - especially the young - to ignore the consequences of risky behaviors. But they should know that there are still 16,000 to 18,000 AIDS-related deaths in the U.S. each year.

In Baltimore, nearly 16,000 residents are living with HIV/AIDS. Once the disease is transmitted - mostly through injected drug use and heterosexual contact - treatment is generally available, funded largely with federal dollars. That's why the HIV/AIDS Commission has focused its efforts on pushing for more and better prevention efforts. Nearly $6 million in federal, city and state funds is being spent on prevention, but there has been inadequate tracking of how the money is being used and who benefits. Now the city's Health Department is compiling an inventory of prevention programs in a belated but necessary effort to improve the coordination and effectiveness of the AIDS prevention effort.

But the city shouldn't wait for the inventory to be completed before acting on some of the commission's recommendations, such as working more closely with the public schools to educate students about prevention and getting more homeless people with HIV into affordable housing where they can receive medical services. A citywide advertising campaign, accompanied by increased testing and counseling, also is being pushed by the commission.

This ambitious agenda will require more public and private resources. They may be hard to come by in an economic downturn, but prevention is less costly than treatment, and knocking Baltimore and Maryland out of the AIDS top 10 is a worthy goal.

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