Poverty and the culture of poverty are partly to blame for the high number of blacks with health problems such as AIDS, said one of the speakers at a regional conference.
Dr. David Satcher, president of Meharry Medical College in Tennessee, said that fear, misinformation and lack of access to health care are hampering efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS, especially among blacks.Satcher spoke to a regional conference on drug abuse and AIDS Monday in Charlotte. The conference was sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
``We still have not decided whether we are dealing with a crime, a sin or a disease,' Satcher said.
As of July 31, more than 40,000, or nearly 28 percent, of the nation's 143,000 reported cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome had occurred among blacks, who make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population.
In North Carolina, blacks make up about 46 percent of AIDS victims statewide. About 22 percent of the state's population is black.
In Tennessee, 24 percent of the state's 1,217 AIDS cases has been among blacks - an increase from 18 percent of the cases reported by the end of 1985. State health officials expect the proportion of AIDS cases occurring among blacks to continue to rise.
Nearly 40 percent of all AIDS cases among adult blacks has been linked to sharing needles during intravenous drug use. That risk factor is linked to only 8 percent of AIDS cases among adult whites.
Satcher said the nation cannot afford to let finances stand in the way of early treatment. Therefore, fighting the disease will involve solving poverty, he said.
Lack of access to health care may be directly related to the low number of black health-care professionals in the country, said Satcher, whose historically black college has graduated many of the nation's black doctors and dentists.
These problems, in turn, are directly related to the health status of blacks and other minorities - ``whether that health status is reflected in a decreased life expectancy, an increase in infant mortality, disproportionate impact of cancer and heart disease, a large number of excess deaths, or the devastating problem of drug abuse and AIDS,' he said.
The meeting is designed to recruit community leaders including the clergy, recreation leaders and even barbers and beauticians in the fight against AIDS.
Satcher's recommendations included:
Implementing culturally sensitive and non-judgmental public education programs involving the workplace, school, community social groups and churches in black communities.
Education and counseling targeted for high-risk individuals based on sexual preferences, practices or history of drug abuse.
Safe, confidential, accurate and non-threatening AIDS virus screening programs for the detection of early AIDS virus infections.