Monday, February 22, 2010

Study: Metro Atlanta's HIV epidemic centered around downtown

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2010 at 5:36 PM

Metro Atlanta's HIV cases are concentrated mainly in the downtown Atlanta area, according to a study released last week by Emory University.

The Emory Center for AIDS Research says that 60 percent of people living with HIV in Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett Counties are clustered in 157 census tracts centered around downtown Atlanta. According to the study, 1.34 percent of people who reside in the highest risk areas of that cluster are living with HIV. Since the World Health Organization classifies HIV rates higher than 1 percent as a "generalized epidemic," Atlanta easily qualifies.

And Georgia's rank of 9th in the nation for new HIV infections indicates that this epidemic isn't going away anytime soon. Emory researchers note that HIV service providers — 42 percent of the metro region's are located in the identified cluster — could facilitate treatment and prevention.

"Prevention efforts targeted to the populations living in this identified area, as well as efforts to address their specific needs, may be most beneficial in curtailing the epidemic within this cluster," Paula Frew, an Emory School of Medicine professor and author of the study, said in a statement.

So why is sexual health in downtown Atlanta faring so poorly?

Emory's study says:

The large Atlanta HIV cluster is characterized by a high prevalence of poverty, a greater percentage of African-American residents, and high prevalence of behaviors that increase the risk of HIV exposure such as injection drug use and men having sex with men.

And it's not like a strong sense of what constitutes sexual health is fostered early in these areas. Fulton County students' sex ed curriculum emphasizes that "abstinence until marriage or a return to abstinence [is] a healthy and preferred lifestyle," and also focuses largely on "the limitations of condoms in preventing the spread of STDs."

Of course, sex ed classes can only go so far in being a band-aid for the overwhelming social problems that are at the root of the cluster's HIV cases. But perhaps emphasizing the potential rather than limitations of condoms for preventing the spread of STDs could be a step in the right direction.

Downplaying the importance of safe sex in the hopes that future generations will be terrified of having sex at all isn't doing anyone any favors.

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