More blacks live with and die from HIV/AIDS than any other racial group in South Carolina. That isn’t a recent development.
Blacks have always led the state in the rates of new infections and rates of persons living with the disease.
In the early years of the epidemic, public focus was largely on white gay men, nationally and in South Carolina. But surveillance data dating back to 1986 show that from the beginning, the problem was worse among blacks than among other racial groups.
The gap between blacks and whites has widened over the decades, narrowing somewhat in later years. In 1988, blacks were infected at rates four times higher than whites. By 1999, infection rates among blacks had risen to 10 times that of whites. South Carolina blacks still overwhelmingly bear the brunt of the disease. Infection rates are now seven times that of whites.
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“One of the tragedies of the HIV epidemic in S.C. is that the always disproportionate impact on minorities continues to worsen year after year,” said DHEC infectious disease specialist Dr. Robert Ball.
In a state where blacks comprise 29 percent of the population, they account for almost three quarters of new cases, as well as of people living with HIV/AIDS. And for the last seven years, they have accounted for about 80 percent of all deaths due to HIV/AIDS.
Today, rates of death from HIV/AIDS are much lower than they used to be thanks to life-extending medicines.
But people still die from it.
In 2005, 249 people died from HIV disease — down from 309 in 2001. From 1999 to 2005, almost 2,000 people died.
It generally takes about 10 years from HIV infection to AIDS onset. Still, many people are at advanced stages of disease before they ever get tested. At that point, they don’t benefit as much from medicines and are more likely to be hospitalized.
Many don’t get tested even with regular doctor visits. Research by Dr. Wayne Duffus of USC and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control shows that of more than 1,700 so-called “late testers” — people diagnosed with AIDS within a year of their HIV diagnosis — between 2001 and 2005, almost three quarters visited a medical facility multiple times in preceding years, but had not been tested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended routine HIV testing in settings such as doctor’s offices and hospitals, which can eliminate those missed opportunities.