Our Views: The bad list for diseases

If Baton Rouge claims an unenviable top spot on a bad list — the most AIDS cases diagnosed per capita — it’s only fair to note that New Orleans is not that far behind, in the fourth spot in the United States.

We need to get off that kind of list, or at least move farther down it.

The manifested need for testing, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases has led one Baton Rouge clinic to expand its scope. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation clinic on Goodwood Boulevard recently began offering wellness testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, in addition to its normal HIV/AIDS testing. Free treatment for those who test positive for STDs also will be offered.

“As our numbers grow, we will expand those hours,” said Leah Cullins, nurse practitioner at the clinic.

Albert Ruiz, national director of the wellness programs for the health care foundation, said roughly 20 percent of people with HIV/AIDS have an STD.

“It’s very common in many of our clinics when people come in to test for an STD to also find out that they may have had an exposure to HIV also,” he said.

The underlying problems include a stigma against HIV/AIDS testing and diagnosis, poverty and homelessness, which exacerbates the spread of diseases of all kinds. Baton Rouge has the highest rate of new AIDS cases in the country with a rate of 29. That means 29 people out of every 100,000 of population were diagnosed with AIDS in 2011, the federal Centers for Disease Control said in March. New Orleans ranks fourth in the country with a rate of 25. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment can make a huge difference. But testing must come first.

It’s vital testing and prevention programs try to get a handle on the AIDS rate, when Louisiana’s two major cities make the list of the top five in the country.