updated 3/29/2004 12:40:17 PM ET 2004-03-29T17:40:17

The number of people with HIV or AIDS has risen faster in the South than any other region of the country, and the problem will worsen without changes, the authors of a new study said Sunday.

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The South accounted for only 38 percent of the U.S. population, but 40 percent of the country’s AIDS cases in 2002, according to a report presented at the National HIV/AIDS Update Conference. The region also accounted for 46 percent of new AIDS cases between 2000 and 2002.

The report, which examined 17 Southern states and the District of Columbia, was prepared by Michelle Scavnicky, community relations director for the AIDS Institute, and Kim Williams, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More funding for programs needed
Scavnicky said a growing number of people living in rural areas are being diagnosed with HIV and there are more new infections among blacks and Hispanics. Blacks made up 19 percent of the South’s population but accounted for 53 percent of the region’s AIDS cases.

Scavnicky said there is a reluctance in many small towns to openly discuss sex, drug use and sexual orientation, making prevention difficult.

Access to health care is another problem: 17 million Southerners are uninsured and many Southern states offer only limited Medicare coverage.

Scavnicky suggested an increase in state and federal funding for health care and community-based programs to curb the number of new cases.

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