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Monday, June 18, 2012 - 10:52am

Congress Talking HIV/AIDS In The South

Half of new HIV infections and AIDS diagnoses in 2009 were in the South, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that is getting the attention of some of the region’s federal representatives.

A Congressional roundtable Tuesday will begin the search for solutions.

Doctors diagnosed more than 2,000 Georgians with new HIV or AIDS infections in 2010, according to state data. Three-fourths of those people are African-American.

Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, is joining representatives and senators from Alabama, Florida and North Carolina bringing attention to HIV and AIDS in the south. He said when nine of the 10 leading states for new infections are in one region, the nation needs to starting figuring out why.

“We don’t want this to grow like it did silently in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with gay men, and people were dying unnecessarily because there had been no attention paid to the rising numbers,” Johnson said.

He said improving access to healthcare and addressing a shortage of doctors who specialize in treating HIV/AIDS patients are key areas to address.

Advocates say it’s important to reduce the stigma associated with the infection so people will get tested and treated. People in the south lack adequate access to testing, prevention and treatment services, said Charles Stephens, southern regional organizer for advocacy group AIDS United.

“We don’t have the best health outcomes in general, so I think HIV is definitely further evidence of the work that we have to do across the board around healthcare, around education, around poverty,” Stephens said.

About 40,000 Georgians live with the HIV and AIDS, two-thirds in metro Atlanta. But there are high HIV rates in the Augusta and Coastal health districts as well.