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African-American Group Calls for AIDS Emergency in NY - 2001-08-22

The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS is calling on New York State legislators to declare a public health emergency in the state's African-American and Latino communities.

The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS is urging lawmakers to restore more than $12 million for AIDS education, prevention and treatment that was cut out of the New York State budget. The group warns that otherwise the HIV/AIDS epidemic will continue to spiral in New York's African-American and Latino communities.

The coalition of Black and Latino community organizations and leaders held simultaneous news conferences in eight locations across New York State. Black leaders expressed outrage that the funds were removed during ongoing negotiations to break a deadlock over what this year's state spending should be.

The Reverend Calvin Butts stressed that minority groups account for more than 80 percent of all newly diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS in New York State, with people between the ages of 16 and 24 particularly hard hit.

"I do not want to ever sound like I am not concerned about every woman and man who has to deal with HIV/AIDS," said Reverend Butts. "But I want to make sure that we all know that the emphasis ought to be placed in the communities where it is doing the most damage. If we place the emphasis there, we will really be attacking the problem across the board. So this is not an appeal necessarily made on racial grounds or ethnic grounds. It is made [based] on where the disease is doing the heaviest damage and currently it is doing the heaviest damage in the African-American and Latino communities."

The New York-based organization has served in an advisory capacity on HIV/AIDS-related issues to several foreign nations, including the Bahamas, the Central African Republic, Gabon, and Uganda. Debra Fraser-Howze, the group's president, describes AIDS as an emergency for the world and says it is now becoming a public health crisis in the Caribbean.

"In the countries Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, Bahamas, Guyana as of the last reporting from those ministers of health in this week's information, the epidemic, HIV infection, has moved completely into the general population," said Ms. Fraser-Howze. "They are now no longer looking at new HIV infections in the risk groups or putting them in categories. You know what that means. We saw the same trend happen in Africa and today, in sub-Sahara Africa, we bury 5,500 people a day from HIV and AIDS. We will have 40 million children orphaned worldwide, but 90 percent of them on the continent."

In March, the lower house of the New York State legislature approved a resolution declaring African-American and other minority communities in a state of public health emergency.