ACROSS THE COUNTRY, more than half the AIDS victims are white male homosexuals. But in some cities, such as New York, the majority of victims are minority group members and their families. Some are homosexual or bisexual, but many more are intravenous drug users who have contracted AIDS because they share needles with infected addicts. Last weekend, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta held a conference on their special problems. Almost a thousand delegates attended -- only 100 had been expected -- and by and large they were concerned and angry. Some minority leaders and federal health officials conceded that they had been reluctant to emphasize the impact of AIDS in minority communities for fear of being accused of discrimination. But the delegates faced this problem and now demand more funding and a greater role in education and treatment programs.
AIDS problems are different in homosexual and minority communities. Gays are generally better off financially, and many have private health insurance. They tend to be responsive to the need for behavior modification and are admirably supportive of each other. Their volunteer efforts to care for their own and other AIDS victims have been impressive. Addicts, on the other hand, almost always depend on public resources for care and treatment and are slower to cooperate in containing the spread of the disease. Dr. Harold Jaffe, chief AIDS epidemiologist at the CDC, admits that "it is tempting to say we can't deal with the addict problem of infection. But there is no choice. We must do it."
Even if it is difficult to reach black and Hispanic men who are at risk for AIDS, there is special need to protect others in the minority community. Women who are partners of these men and their children are being infected at a terrible rate. Seventy percent of the women with AIDS in this country are black or Hispanic, and 80 percent of the children -- 94 percent in New York City. Education is critically needed, and community leaders have an important role to play. At the Atlanta conference, federal officials announced that $7 million will be made available for minority programs, and an additional $10 million will be allocated next year. That's a good start -- but only a start.