AIDS Fight Particularly Hard In The South

More people are living with AIDS in the South than in any other region. Dr. Michelle Ogle runs an HIV clinic in Henderson, N.C., where the stigma of AIDS runs so deep that the clinic doesn't even have a sign.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

More people are living with AIDS in the South than any other area of the country. More people with AIDS are dying there too. And, as Richard Knox just noted, the rate of HIV infection is now seven times higher among blacks than whites. So, let's take a look now at one HIV clinic in the South.

Dr. Michelle Ogle treats mostly African-American patients in Henderson, North Carolina. She says the stigma against AIDS runs so deep that her clinic doesn't even have a sign up front.

Dr. MICHELLE OGLE (Infectious Disease Specialist, Maria Parham Hospital, Henderson, North Carolina): We don't advertise it. We don't tell people where it is. The only people that know we're there are the people who need the services. Because there are people who may sit out in the parking lot just to see who's coming in and out of the door.

SEABROOK: Dr. Ogle says fighting HIV in the South is hard for many reasons: Lack of transportation, poverty, 20 million uninsured people and a very basic misunderstanding of who's at risk.

Dr. OGLE: For most people that I service and the people in the community, HIV and AIDS is something that gay white men get and they die from it. And it's actually a matter of not understanding the disease, the transmission, who's at risk, how do I protect myself, where do I get condoms, how are they used properly.

It's not a matter of just not talking about it and African-Americans are sort of sweeping it under the rug. It's a matter of actually not having the proper education about how to protect themselves. And that is the problem.

SEABROOK: I want to ask about how you work in your clinic. Let's say you're in an exam room, you're with a patient who's been diagnosed with HIV what do they tell you about what they tell their families and how their families react to them?

Dr. OGLE: When they come in, oftentimes, understandably, they're very distraught. Because in their minds they're dead. They're HIV infected and they're going to die. And oftentimes they have not told anyone they've been diagnosed, they don't want tell anyone, they're afraid that they may be either put out of the home that they're in if they're living with a relative. They're afraid that they will be isolated from the people that they love.

SEABROOK: Does that make it hard for them or do you find that that translates into a less-than-perfect drug regimen?

Dr. OGLE: Absolutely. It's makes it a lot more difficult for them to be adherent to their medical appointments because if they don't have transportation and they are dependent on someone to bring them, they don't want the other person to see where they're coming. So, they may not come because they don't have a way to get there.

Oftentimes I have patients who hide their medications from the people that they live with and if it's a medication it has to be refrigerated. They don't put it in the refrigerator - they hide it. So, if it's not a convenient time during the day to take their medication when they're alone, they won't take it at all. So, it makes it very difficult.

Plus just the stress of knowing that you're diagnosed with this disease but you can't tell anyone that you're afraid that somebody may find out and if they find out they're going to tell everyone. That's a lot of stress to live under.

SEABROOK: Dr. Ogle, you've been an infectious disease doctor for more than 20 years. How do you meet this problem head on?

Dr. OGLE: By actually going to the churches and speaking to the congregations, speaking to the ministers about the problem that's going on with HIV and AIDS in their community. And that has been huge. I will say eight years ago when I moved into North Carolina, we couldn't get into a church. I would get turned down consistently, and I would be told things like we don't have HIV in our church, and if you come in here talking about it then we're going to have it. You know, we don't have gay men in this church.

And little did they know I was actually taking care of people that were members of their church. So, it's taken us a few years to get the churches to really realize they have to be involved. And we have had actual HIV testing in the church, and it's been wonderful experience for us.

SEABROOK: Dr. Michelle Ogle is an infectious disease specialist in an HIV/AIDS clinic in Henderson, North Carolina. Dr. Ogle, thanks so much for your time.

Dr. OGLE: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the discussion.

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