Pubdate: Thu, 01 Dec 2005
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2005 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author:  Jeffrey Brawn
Note: Jeffrey Brawn is a graduate student in the University of 
Maine's School of Social Work. He lives in Lincolnville.
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Imagine that when you read the Bangor Daily News tomorrow, the 
headline states: "Epidemic hits town of Kenduskeag, entire population 
stricken with death-wish illness."That's right, every man, woman and 
child is infected with a well-known disease that is almost guaranteed 
to take their lives prematurely. In the case of Kenduskeag, it would 
be about 1,171 people (the town's population according to census 
data); but it could just as easily be Dixmont, Frankfort, Patten, 
Steuben or Trenton.

These and dozens of other communities in Maine have populations of 
about 1,000 to 1,500 people. This is also the number of people in 
Maine who are currently living with HIV-AIDS; lest we forget any 
time, but particularly today: World AIDS Day.

I have a friend who is living with AIDS. His current situation is 
that his disease means a regular regimen of drugs, occasional 
illness, and chronic fatigue. He goes about his daily life with as 
normal a routine as he can muster up. "John" had good support from 
the Coastal AIDS Network (CAN); however, the recent closure of this 
AIDS Service Organization (ASO) has meant a significant shift for 
him, especially when it comes to the need for personal counseling and 
emotional support. These are clearly part of his medicine and health.

John's services are supposedly being covered now by Dayspring in 
Augusta. He and I recently talked about public perceptions, 
prejudice, ignorance, and fear that cause for us to be living in a 
culture where this subject is just not talked about.

John has great faith, and he also believes the people of Maine 
possess and support "a great humanity." It is John's eternal optimism 
that is also a significant part of his daily recovery program. So 
aside from the frequent doctor's visits and bouts with pneumonia, 
decaying muscle tissue, and the nausea and diarrhea, John states, 
"I'm one of the lucky guys."

Over the past 18 years, statisticians have been monitoring the 
incidence of HIV diagnoses; last year there were 45 new cases 
officially registered through the various means of tracking. The 
annual trend of new HIV cases in Maine has been pretty steady for 
about 10 years. It is most important to note that between one-quarter 
and one-third of those infected with HIV are unaware of their status. 
However, funding for community-based prevention activities has 
decreased, limiting the number of community workers testing Mainers.

In 2004, 48 percent of those testing positive with HIV were 
simultaneously diagnosed with AIDS, indicating they'd been infected 
with HIV for years before testing. These statistics are conservative, 
as many individuals are unwilling to be open about the disease and 
the cure, consistent with our cultural norms. The CDC "know your 
status" initiative is a focus in Maine for 2005. This increased 
emphasis on testing is likely to result in even larger numbers of 
people being diagnosed and needing services.

It is time we all came out of the closet. We need to view the 
HIV-AIDS epidemic in conjunction with, and as part of, a larger 
context. It is one of many sexually transmitted diseases, and it is 
also one of many life-threatening, life-altering illnesses that 
affect all of us. We need to maintain a sense of urgency in order to 
preserve an attitude that preventative measures and education are the 
only real tools for reducing the number of cases.

The stereotype that this only happens to gay men, especially men who 
use intravenous drugs is not only misleading, it is deadly. HIV-AIDS 
is present in all walks of life. Hanging on to stereotypical judgment 
is the root of the closeting and the "ghetto effect" it is having on 
those living with HIV-AIDS in Maine.

The Maine Legislature is currently wrestling with the difficult task 
of prioritizing the many legislative documents, and dealing with our 
budget crisis. They are the ones who are forced to bring the human 
faces of the affected, the afflicted, and the needy to the most 
impersonal and yet hopefully objective place of saying "yes" to some 
and "no" to others. They are the ones who will listen to the hours of 
testimony by the many families and clients who receive some form of 
state or federal assistance, and then decide where to spend our 
limited resources.

There are some other current day realities that are important to 
remember as we evaluate our priorities. The new wave of drug use in 
Maine includes heroin and methamphetamines. Heroin is primarily taken 
by injection, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, 
individuals using crystal meth are four times more likely to 
participate in unprotected sex than others. A common means for 
AIDS-HIV transmission is now coupled with another epidemic wave of 
drug use that involves needles and-or unprotected sex. This is a 
recipe for disaster if we don't allocate reasonable means and funding 
for prevention and education.

The Maine AIDS Alliance has been the coordinator of many regional 
agencies specifically for this purpose. Maine has had a history of 
providing education and prevention throughout the past 10 years, 
primarily supporting ASO's and working closely with communities, 
health care providers and schools. This year the appropriations 
committee is reviewing carried-over legislation, LD 588.

This bill would provide a modest $350,000 a year for two years to 
support the Maine AIDS Alliance. It would replace recent funding cuts 
and provide area groups with testing and increased case-management 
services of HIV-AIDS in Maine: a small price of prevention for pounds 
of potential cure for a disease that we cannot afford to forget 
about. This relatively small allocation to augment an already scant 
state commitment to a serious health issue is critical.

LD 588 would allow the Maine AIDS Alliance to continue as the only 
collective voice in our state for education and advocacy, and more 
importantly restore funding assistance to the AIDS Service 
Organizations who are providing the front line services to clients 
and at-risk populations.

Think about it and then contact your legislator.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman