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Experts Address State of HIV/AIDS Care in the Region Following Landmark Assessment Showing Widening Gaps in Social Services
Date:11/25/2008

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Medical and social service officials convened today at a briefing hosted by the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) to discuss the results, implications and recommendations of the Southwestern PA Regional HIV/AIDS Needs Assessment study. The region's top HIV/AIDS experts in attendance who provided insight and perspective on the impact of the assessment's findings included:

    -- Kathi Boyle, Executive Director of Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force
    -- Dr. Susan Hunt of the Pittsburgh AIDS Center for Treatment at UPMC
    -- Dr. Linda Frank of the PA/Mid-Atlantic AIDS Education and Training
       Center
    -- Dr. Jessica Griffin Burke, Assistant Professor, Department of
       Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Graduate School of Public
       Health, University of Pittsburgh
    -- Dr. Craig Fryer, Assistant Professor, Department of Behavioral and
       Community Health Sciences, Assistant Director and Center for Minority
       Health, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh
    -- City of Pittsburgh Councilwoman Tonya Payne.

The goal of this first comprehensive Southwestern PA HIV/AIDS Needs Assessment was to determine how to better support the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS in the region. This assessment process included reviews of other local relevant studies, administered surveys, and in-depth interviews with people living with HIV. The assessment included input from 320 HIV positive people in 12 counties of Southwestern PA.

Conducted by the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health and commissioned by PATF, the results of the first Needs Assessment Study of its kind highlights progress that has been made locally in the medical treatment of HIV/AIDS, but also identifies a widening of specific service gaps, barriers and unmet needs of those who are now living longer with the virus. According to estimates from the Southwestern PA AIDS Planning Coalition, there are 3,600 individuals reported living with HIV/AIDS in the region. Approximately 90 percent of these individuals live in Allegheny County and 500 of them currently access services at the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.

    Key findings from the assessment include:
    -- Many basic health and social service needs are not being met -- only
       30% of respondents reported that their general health was either
       excellent or good.
    -- Major advancements in medical care for HIV/AIDS are enabling us to
       treat AIDS as a chronic disease, allowing many people to live longer.
       While much progress has been made in addressing the burden of
       individuals living with HIV/AIDS, more attention must also focus on
       their long-term needs.
    -- The stigma of being HIV positive persists and creates problems for
       people seeking HIV-related care -- 29% of respondents reported that
       stigma made it difficult to seek care.
    -- Living with HIV in rural areas presents additional challenges -- nearly
       33% of those surveyed felt long distance to medical facilities and
       personnel was a barrier to care.
    -- While the Pittsburgh region has become a leader in HIV/AIDS medical
       research and treatment, many basic needs of those with HIV/AIDS are
       unmet.

According to Dr. Susan Hunt, a pioneer in the treatment of local patients with HIV/AIDS, "After two decades of treating thousands of patients, we are seeing a resurgence of infection among new patients, particularly with younger gay men and African American women. It is critical that this new generation of those exposed to this terminal condition educate themselves about prevention, early detection and testing and how to access medical and social service resources."

As a response to this benchmark assessment, and in anticipation of World AIDS Day on December 1st, PATF and the region's HIV/AIDS care experts are calling for a coordinated response by government, non-profit and healthcare sectors to:

    1. Improve access to existing social services by maximizing the impact of
       limited financial resources for HIV/AIDS-related services;
    2. Institute more education and information programs to encourage more
       testing of individuals (the Centers for Disease Control estimates that
       25% of individuals infected with HIV/AIDS are unaware of their HIV
       status);
    3. Expand access to medical and social services in rural areas;
    4. Reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS-related stigma among all caregivers and
       the general public;
    5. Invest additional financial resources to meet the growing needs of an
       infected population that is now living longer, but still growing.

"This needs assessment validated what we have been experiencing in recent years with regard to service to HIV/AIDS patients," said PATF Executive Director Kathi Boyle. "With all sectors working in concert, we must address newer generations of those who should be tested for HIV, get them into treatment, and help them stay in treatment, which ultimately can prevent HIV transmission, improve an individuals' health, and reduce overall healthcare costs," says Boyle.

About PATF

The Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) is dedicated to saving, sustaining and empowering the lives of individuals living with HIV/AIDS and preventing the spread of infection. Founded in 1985, PATF is the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in Southwestern Pennsylvania, serving eight counties, and providing the region's most comprehensive HIV prevention and support services.

For more information on how HIV/AIDS is impacting our region, please contact Kathi Boyle, Executive Director of Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, at 412-345-7456, or kboyle@patf.org.


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SOURCE Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force
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