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Burr seeks HIV funds

WINTON – United States Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) returned to Hertford County on Thursday.

Burr attended a HIV roundtable discussion in Winton at the Hertford County Public Health Authority building. Hertford County Public Health Director Curtis Dickson, HC Director of Community Health Services Susan Askew, HC Public Health Authority Director of Nursing Diane McLawhorn, Rev. Patrick Young of the New Ahoskie Baptist Church, North Carolina AIDS Director Evelyn Foust and Dr. Thomas Kerkering from East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine attended the roundtable along with other health professionals and interested parties from the area.

“My goal is to reauthorize the Ryan White Act and to obtain a more equitable distribution of funds,” Burr said.

The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act is Federal legislation that addresses the unmet health needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS by funding primary health care and support services. The act was named after Ryan White, an Indiana teenager whose struggle with HIV/AIDS and against AIDS-related discrimination helped educate the nation.

Senator Burr sits on the Health, Labor, Education and Pension Committee in the U.S. Senate, which oversees funding for health programs like the Ryan White Act.

While Burr said his goal was to see the act reauthorized, he stated that formidable opposition from New York and California are blocking the efforts, even though HIV and AIDS cases are declining in those states while they are increasing in North Carolina and other southern states.

“There will still be close to an additional $1 million coming to North Carolina next year, with or without the reauthorization,” Burr emphasized.

“If the Ryan White Act is not reauthorized this year, we can go back next year,” Burr said. “The act does not go away; it just continues to operate the same way if not reauthorized.”

“Case management is almost non-existent in this area,” Dickson said. “The amount of money in the Ryan White Act is a drop in the bucket of the money needed.

“HIV has moved to the South, especially rural areas,” Dickson added.

“Eastern North Carolina is the same as developing countries,” Dr. Kerkering said. “The access to health care is very poor. Eighty-seven percent of the people (with HIV/AIDS) earn less than $15,000 a year.

“We can write prescriptions, but the people can’t afford them,” Kerkering said. “We almost applied to the Global Fund (for assistance).”

In 2004, there were 1,641 new individuals diagnosed with HIV in North Carolina and the state has averaged 1,700 reported new cases of HIV the past several years. An estimated 28,000 people are living with HIV or AIDS in North Carolina as of 2004.

Sixty-eight percent of people living with AIDS in North Carolina are African American and in 2003, North Carolina reported the second highest number of AIDS cases in non-metropolitan areas.

In 2003, African Americans accounted for just 12.8 percent of the U.S. population, but 49.3 percent of estimated AIDS cases.

“We require all pregnant women in North Carolina to be tested for HIV,” Foust said.

According to Kerkering, 20 percent of African American males in North Carolina are incarcerated and many of them are becoming infected with HIV while they are in prison.

The extreme poverty in this area of North Carolina exacerbates the problem, Foust said.

“We appreciate the fighting you (Burr) have done in Washington,” Foust said. “Now is the time for the Federal government to step up. This is not about punishing the larger states, but North Carolina needs more funding.”

“New York and California are not screaming for more money, they are flush with it (HIV funds),” Burr added. “If we only accomplish one thing, it is to educate Congress that HIV is not on the decline everywhere in the United States.”

California and New York receive about twice the funding per case that North Carolina receives, even though estimated AIDS incidences increased by almost 14 percent in the South between 1999 and 2003 while they decreased by 3.6 percent in the Northeast and 3.3 percent in the West.

The panel also discussed other health issues, including the Bird Flu virus H5N1.

“The virus has not made the leap to human to human infections yet,” Burr said. “We are trying to create a model to deal with this and other types of disasters without re-creating the wheel and we are going after a vaccine program in the United States.”

The panel also discussed potential distribution programs if a vaccine was created and an outbreak of the virus occurred.