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S.C. leaders discuss HIV testing


South Carolina health officials, physicians, advocates and a lawmaker on Tuesday discussed the CDC’s new recommendations that HIV testing become a routine part of medical care.

“If we test more people, we’re going to find more people,” said Dr. Wayne Duffus, medical director for the STD/HIV division of the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

In South Carolina, almost 14,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Sixty percent of people who tested positive were already at advanced stages that require medication. The AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which helps patients who have little or no insurance, has a 293-strong waiting list as of Nov. 8.

A quarter of people in the United States who have HIV don’t know they’re infected. Finding out their status early could prompt those infected to take lifesaving medications and reduce the chance of passing on the disease to others. Treating HIV early also lowers the economic burden on the state, local experts say.

Despite knowledge about risk factors, stigma keeps many from getting tested, said Bambi Gaddist, executive director of South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council.

“It’s not so much what we know, but what we believe and what are our attitudes towards HIV/AIDS.”

In addition to social cost, the economic cost of HIV to the state is great, said Dr. Kent Stock of Lowcountry Infectious Diseases. In 2002, the state spent more than $70 million on hospitalization charges for about 1,900 people.

Health officials and advocates called on the legislature for more money for prevention and care that would lower hospitalization.

The town hall meeting was one of a series being held around the country by the National Minority Health Month Foundation.

Reach Reid at (803) 771-8378.

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