Report on Poverty Helps Explain Philadelphia’s High HIV Rate as City Gives Out Its Millionth Condom

Last week, the independent Institute of Medicine said there should be no insuranceco-pays or deductibles for any form of contraception that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)

Four months after introducing its custom-labeled Freedom Condom, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has distributed more than one million free prophylactics and is on target to give out 2.5 million this year, up from 1 million last year, the agency said Thursday.

The campaign is aimed at adolescents, whose high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and low rates of  safe sex put them at particular risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Most of the condoms have been distributed through local community and health centers, barber shops and other retailers; the city’s new youth-focused web site,, has handled more than 1,700 condom mail orders.

The city announcement came  on the same day that researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a demographic analysis of HIV infection specifically among heterosexuals in 24 urban areas with high rates of the disease,  including Philadelphia. Although the analysis combined  data from all the locations, the results  help explain Philadelphia’s  rates of  HIV, which have long been among the highest in the country.

The key finding: Poverty and other socio-economic factors were so strongly linked to HIV status that they effectively wiped out the stark difference in rates  between whites,  blacks, and Hispanics, and even between people who used  crack cocaine  or exchanged  sex for money and those who did not.

Overall,  the report found, 2 percent of low-income   heterosexuals in its sample from cities  that are known to have high rates of HIV were infected  with the disease —  10 to 20 times  the rate in the U.S. population as a  whole.

Separate data  collected  by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health shows that the city’s overall  infection rate — based on a far broader population than was included in the new federal report — is about 1.2 percent.

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