- OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) - California's Alameda County Thursday declared
a public health emergency over AIDS rates in its black community. It is
the first local government in the United States to declare a regional disaster
because of HIV.
- The county Board of Supervisors unanimously
passed a resolution declaring the state of emergency, a move aimed at securing
a bigger chunk of a new, $156 million federal program targeting AIDS in
- "The impact (of AIDS) on the African-American
community has been absolutely devastating," Rep. Barbara Lee, a major
force behind the declaration, told a news conference, noting that so far
there had been a "stunning lack of resources" to deal with the
fallout from the epidemic and prevent more infections.
- By declaring a state of emergency, usually
reserved for major natural disasters or civic unrest, Alameda County is
pioneering a strategy championed by the Congressional Black Caucus as a
means to focus attention on the threat AIDS poses to minority groups.
- Just across the bay from San Francisco
and covering the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, Alameda County follows
after Los Angeles as home to the second largest number of black residents
- While nationally both AIDS mortality
and infection rates are declining, minority neighborhoods such as those
in Alameda County have shown a reverse trend -- fueled in part by a prevalence
of risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use and in part by a lack of
concerted anti-AIDS education efforts.
- In Alameda County, blacks account for
18 percent of the population of 1.3 million but represent 41 percent of
the county's AIDS cases. The AIDS case rate for blacks is five times that
of whites and Hispanics.
- Overall Alameda County has shown a 61
percent decline in the number AIDS cases over the past five years. But
the number of black residents diagnosed with AIDS rose by 20 percent
- Doretha Williams-Flournoy, executive
director of the AIDS Project East Bay, said the emergency declaration would
help to raise both money for and awareness of the AIDS crisis in the black
- "We're trying to raise public awareness
around the condition of HIV/AIDS in African-American community, more so
for African-Americans than for anyone else," Williams-Flournoy said.
"They need to understand that they are capable of contracting HIV
- Last week, the United States announced
the $156 million program targeting minorities, mostly blacks, who are most
at risk of AIDS, aimed primarily at getting people into programs and clinics
where they can get treatment and help in avoiding infection with the virus
in the first place.
- The funding will be used to pay for "crisis
response teams" made up of nurses, epidemiologists, doctors, substance
abuse experts and other specialists who will move into a community and
work with local groups, tailoring programs for each specific area.
- Money will also be doled out by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in grants for outreach programs,
making testing and counseling available, running workshops and setting
up substance abuse programs, as addicts are at a very high risk of HIV
- The program will seek to make sure that
the poor have access to protease inhibitors, expensive drugs that are key
to the cocktail of medications that can keep AIDS at bay in HIV-infected