With tables of data in front of her in her office at Detroit's Herman Kiefer Health Complex, state epidemiologist Eve Mokotoff is a little guarded in talking with News Hits about HIV and AIDS rates in Detroit and southeast Michigan.
She looks carefully at the data she's sharing about the prevalence of infections and the disease in the city and gets very cautious about drawing conclusions, especially regarding the number of Detroit residents who are African-American, male and report living with HIV or AIDS.
Of the 5,017 Detroiters with HIV or AIDS, as reported by Jan. 1, 3,128 of them, or 62 percent are African-American males.
A scribe at a daily newspaper once wrongly cited Mokotoff's data, effectively saying that a large percentage of African-American men in the general population not just among people with HIV and AIDS were having sex with both men and women. The reporter failed to understand that the numbers she was looking at were only people with HIV or AIDS and instead reported that behaviors among that population were happening in the general public.
When a BET producer called Mokotoff, who is an HIV/AIDS epidemiology manager with the Michigan Department of Community Health, to discuss the story, she pointed out the error. It saved her from being part of a national news story or appearing on Oprah, she now jokes.
"But when I talk to reporters, I want to make sure they don't end up blaming black men for the epidemic in southeast Michigan," she tells News Hits. "I think that's very destructive to us moving forward. I try to make sure people are sensitive to that."
So here's what News Hits will carefully report from the latest Michigan Department of Community Health review of trends, released in April:
For the third straight year, the numbers of new HIV infections, AIDS cases and deaths have leveled off in Detroit. In 2003, 134 deaths, 364 HIV incidences and 266 AIDS incidences were reported in Detroit. In 2004 those numbers hovered at 122, 366 and 253 respectively and rose only slightly in 2005 to 131, 367 and 279. Mokotoff says the Department of Community Health considers those statistically level. "I'd like to see it going down," Mokotoff says. "It's good that it's not growing, but I'd like to see it decreasing."
Men account for 3,581 or 71 percent of people with HIV and AIDS in Detroit. Of them, 3,128 or 87 percent are African-American, 315 or 9 percent are white and 95 or 3 percent are Hispanic.
Women with HIV or AIDS number 1,436 in the city. Or those, 1,307 or 91 percent are African-American, 78 or 5 percent are white and 36 or 3 percent are Hispanic.
The Michigan Department of Community Health estimates that currently 11,690 people in southeast Michigan's six counties are living with HIV or AIDS.
HIV infection is being diagnosed at a higher rate among younger people in southeast Michigan. In 2001, the 13- to 19-year-old age group accounted for 2 percent of diagnoses, but in 2005 that rose to 5 percent. The 20- to 24-year-old group made up 11 percent of diagnoses in 2001 but grew to 15 percent in 2004.
Of all the teens and young adults diagnosed in Michigan during the last five years, 84 percent of them are African-American. That compares to 69 percent of diagnoses in other age groups.
Most new diagnoses in Michigan are males who have sex with males, are in the 30- to 44-year-old age group and live in southeast Michigan. Mokotoff says it's by design that they are not called "gay men with HIV or AIDS" and instead men who report having sex with men. "We bypass the whole identity thing and go straight for behavior," she says.Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]