New medications and a declining death rate have led to more people living with HIV in New Mexico, the state's department of health reported in its 2003 surveillance report. Since the mid 1990s, New Mexico's AIDS-related death rate has dropped about 65%, while the number of people with HIV disease increased 53%--from about 1,200 people in 1996 to 1,836 people in 2003.
The annual number of HIV diagnoses has also held steady at about 100 since 1999, even as the epidemic's demographics have changed. More older and younger people have been showing up at the University of New Mexico Hospital's HIV clinic.
"I have people in their 60s and early 20s," Elaine Thomas, an internal medicine specialist at UNMH, says. "It's difficult to get the message to older people. They are no longer contracepting because there is no longer a risk for pregnancy."
"The demographics are changing all the time," says New Mexico AIDS Services executive director Kevin Hoover. "We're actually seeing more and more clients with criminal backgrounds. That presents us with a number of security issues we weren't exactly prepared for."
As fewer people die and more patients look relatively healthy, educating the public about the dangers of HIV and prevention has become more difficult. "If you walk into our clinic on a normal day, you'll see a lot more people who look healthy," Thomas says. "And while that's a wonderful sight, the concern is that people are becoming complacent."