Local HIV-AIDS Numbers Increase For Minorities

According to the latest numbers, more than 16,000 people are reported to be living with HIV and AIDS in Harris County, a population that includes an increasing number of minorities. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, experts say the trend is troubling and highlights the need for continued HIV-AIDS education.

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Since HIV reporting became Texas law almost 8 years ago, more than half the new cases in Harris County have been among African Americans and almost 20-percent among Hispanics. Between 2001 and 2003, there were 3700 new cases of HIV here, and 75-percent involved minorities. Dr. Roberto Andrade is an HIV/AIDS expert with Baylor College of Medicine and treats thousands of patients at the Harris County Hospital District's Thomas Street Health Center.

"There is room for better? Oh yes. We have a big, big commitment for all the people that we cannot reach, especially indigents and we have to understand this disease is becoming a disease for minorities. So we have to do a little better work reaching those populations, but we have the infrastructure to do it."

In fact, Houston is one of the most progressive cities in the country when it comes to HIV/AIDS treatment. More than 40 doctors from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and Baylor College of Medicine staff the Thomas Street Health Center, which treats about 25-percent of the local patients living with HIV and AIDS. Andrade says more of those patients are undocumented immigrants, with still many more who don't seek treatment.

"It's not easy to be non-documented and get access to care and we understand why, but we do have the programs that help those patients. I always say, everyone is welcome to come to your facility because either we treat you or we refer you to the perfect place to have the treatment."

Another fast-growing segment of HIV/AIDS cases involve African-American women. Joyce Austin is a patient mentor at Thomas Street Health Center and has been living with HIV for the past 14 years. She says there is hope for newly diagnosed patients.

"They think because of the stigma out there when you get HIV, you're going to die tomorrow. No, I'm 14 years with this disease, so there is hope. I just encourage them and let them know all that I know, and 14 years, I know quite a bit."

Jerry Boice is an AIDS-certified registered nurse and helps treat HIV/AIDS patients. He ways it shouldn't come as a surprise that local residents get some of the best treatment anywhere.

"If you look at the East Coast and the West Coast, we're doing as well as they are and they're usually what we would consider the premier treaters in the country, and we're measuring up I would say to either one of those areas."

The 15th Annual Thomas Street Health Center HIV Conference continues through tomorrow at the Houston Grand Plaza Hotel near Reliant Stadium.

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