AIDS statistics galvanize minority groups' prevention efforts. Plan for first nationwide effort aimed at blacks

Black and Hispanic Americans plan to act on reports that AIDS is spreading among their ranks faster than among any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. As the disease is increasingly recognized as a heterosexual as well as a homosexual problem, minority groups are taking action, including the first nationwide education effort aimed at blacks. Heterosexual victims are usually drug users by way of intravenous (IV) use of dirty needles, sexual partners of IV drug users, or babies born to mothers who may be drug users, speakers tell black and Hispanic audiences.

Very little has been formally done by minority groups to understand the dangers of AIDS, the impact it is having on young people, especially drug users, on women and on babies, both black and Hispanic, speakers are saying across the nation.

``Let us use this epidemic as a catalyst. Let us eliminate inequities in our health care delivery system. Let us eliminate discrimination, and harness the goodness already at work out there into an unbeatyable army against AIDS,'' Adm. James D. Watkins, chairman of the Presidential Comission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (AIDS) Epidemic, told the National Urban League Convention in Detroit earlier this month.

Before the convention ended, John E. Jacob, Urban League national president, announced that the group would launch a national campaign against AIDS.

``I am insisting that each of our 116 affiliates place the campaign against AIDS at the top of its list of priorities for the coming year,'' he said.

In taking this step the National Urban League became the first predominantly black agency to organize a nationwide program to fight the spread of AIDS among black people as well as other minorities, especially Hispanics.

Hispanics are not idle in this effort, although they have no coordinated national effort started at this time. The Hispanic Office of Planning and Evaluation (HOPE) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health co-sponsored a one-day conference on AIDS in Marlborough, Mass., last month.

Participants agreed to organize an anti-AIDS campaign in the Bay State. They also expressed a desire to work with Latinos in other states to form a national campaign. HOPE leaders told participants they intend to touch bases with other state Latino organizations to develop a national network against AIDS.

Hispanic speakers at the conference recommended:

More money be spent for AIDS research.

Latinos take an active role in warning the Hispanic population of the dangers and the inroads of AIDS among their people.

Preventive action should be taken among Hispanics who are ``far overrepresented among people with AIDS.''

Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Commissioner of Public Health for Massachusetts, pledged her department's commitment to emphasizing AIDS education for Hispanics and other minorities in the state.

Both blacks and Hispanics show concern over the wave of raw statistics floating at various meetings and conferences.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as of Aug. 3 reported that of the close to 70,000 AIDS cases reported to federal centers since 1981, 26 percent were black and 15 percent Hispanic. However, blacks comprise just 12 percent and Hispanics 6 percent of the total US population.

The CDC presented these statistics to a two-day conference of minority organizations in Washington designed to prepare the groups to sponsor education and preventive programs.

The District of Columbia Public Health Commission will host a meeting of black gay leaders this Thursday to discuss how to reach the District's black gays.

While blacks make up only 12 percent of the total population, 25 percent of those tested positive for AIDS and 80 percent of the babies born with AIDS are black, says Dr. John Joyner, president of the predominantly black National Medical Association (NMA).

``It is community action at the grass-roots level that will stop the spread of AIDS,'' Gilbert Gerald, director of minority affairs for the National AIDS Network, told a District of Columbia conference on AIDS last February.

Although AIDS is perceived as a white male homosexual disease, the public does not realize that 35 percent of AIDS victims are intravenous drug users, and 51 percent of all women victims are black and Hispanic, Dr. H. Westly Clark of the San Francisco Veterans Hospital. ``With the second wave of AIDS now starting, there will be even more blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Asians involved, probably outstripping the number of gay white males,'' he added.

The Latino Health Network of Massachusetts was founded last year after a group of Hispanics met in Boston because of concern over a steady increase of evidence of AIDS within Latino communities.

A HOPE newsletter last fall warned that ``although the highest AIDS risk is still homosexual contact, drug users are becoming the fastest growing AIDS group on the East Coast ... and the rate of transmission of the AIDS virus is rising faster among heterosexuals than in any other group.''

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