AIDS in West Hartford and Hartford, Connecticut
what influenced me? page 2
Have I lived my entire life in a bubble?
I guess my earliest memory of AIDS is about 6 years ago, the summer before 7th grade. I’d heard several of the catchy songs from the Broadway musical Rent, such as “Seasons of Love” and begged my mom to take me to see it. She didn’t seem too keen on the idea, and at the time I didn’t understand why. Little did I know that the play addressed the controversial issue of AIDS, and the song that I’d heard was about the characters treasuring their time on Earth, because they were slowly dying of the disease. No wonder she was so reluctant.
While walking from our hotel to the theater that night, (which happened to be around 20 blocks) my mom took the opportunity to explain HIV and AIDS to me. Her explanation consisted of “the disease is mostly transmitted through ‘gay sex’” and “there is no cure.” My heart empathized with these people, especially as I watched their seemingly realistic lives play out on stage, but I still didn’t comprehend the issue completely.
Professor Yoshino handed every member of our freshman seminar a manila folder. Inside was a piece of paper with questions on it about HIV and AIDS in our communities. With the need to immediately venture guesses about this disease, I found myself wondering where to even begin. As I sat there pondering how I could come up with these numbers, I realized that I honestly had no basis from which to start… no real previous knowledge from which to estimate. I was worried that I had done something wrong, seeing as my guesses were literally blind speculations.
I pictured beautiful, comfortable, suburban, West Hartford, where I’ve lived since I was three. I also pictured the stage of Rent, with the characters struggling to stay alive on the streets of New York City. The two seemed so far removed from each other. There’s no way a retrovirus could be corrupting the (seemingly) perfect place where I had grown up.
One portion of our assignment was to guess the number of cases of AIDS in my hometown of West Hartford, which I estimated to be 75. I believed that to be a conservatively high estimate, because I didn’t want to seem naďve. I was surprised to see the actual number was 104, about 40% more than I anticipated. (Table 1.1) Their origins? No clue. Where did we go wrong? West Hartford, in my opinion, had always been the quintessential town. With a population of 63,589, (US Census Bureau) the West Hartford’s AIDS rate stands at 163.55 per 100,000 people. I could not believe that we had a higher rate than 20 out of the 29 surrounding towns in Hartford County. West Hartford has a high local average, but in comparison to the national average, of 328.849 per 100,000 people, it is quite low. (Table 1.2)
A Map of Connecticut by County (9)
On the other hand, there have been 14,916 AIDS cases (CT Dept of Public Health) in the state of Connecticut. With a population of 3,405,565, the AIDS rate is 437.989 per 100,000 people. (Table 1.2) Compared to the national average, Connecticut as a whole falls about 100 cases above that of the United States’. I postulate that the high rate of AIDS in the city of Hartford contributes to that.
There are several unfortunate characteristics of the population of the inner city of Hartford that add to the high rate, including a high poverty level (The median household income, according to the US Census in 2000, in Hartford is $24,820 while in West Hartford it is more than double that, at $61,665 (US Census Bureau)), the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the country, and a high prevalence of intravenous drug abuse.
The Capitol Building, Located in Hartford. (11, 12)
Even though I live right next door, when it came time to estimate the cumulative AIDS cases in Hartford, my mind was blank. I could vaguely remember reading a newspaper article a year or two ago on HIV/AIDS becoming more prevalent among women of color, but I hadn’t read or seen anything more recently that was significant enough to trigger a justifiable, well-informed response to the question of AIDS in my hometown community.
These and other factors led me to think that Hartford itself would have a pretty large overall AIDS rate. At the same time, I had no idea, how many AIDS cases there had even been in the United States, so I didn’t really have a basis from which to judge. I now know that there have been 952,452 cases of AIDS in the United States alone, since 1980, (CDC) and perhaps had I known this I would have been able to guess more efficiently.
Because I had to work with the limited information I had, I estimated that there were 450 cases in Hartford. This seemed to me, a decent guess. I felt it was small enough to not be overpowering or frightening (to myself?), but large enough to encompass the fact that it is a relatively run-down, poor city. My naďveté regarding the situation was woefully significant. My underestimation shocked me. The number stands at 3160 cases in Hartford, (Table 1.1) and amounts to 2,599 people per every 100,000 (Table 1.2). I was off by a factor of six. I was astounded and dumbfounded at this reality. I didn’t realize was how rampant AIDS actually is, and could hardly begin to fathom what the numbers meant, and what the implications of the disease are.
Hartford County’s rate of AIDS cases per 100,000 people stands at 556.71. (Table 1.2) This is more than 200 cases more than the national average. There are many small, upper-to-middle class suburban towns in Hartford County, many of which have seen significantly less than 50 cumulative AIDS cases since 1980.
Although many of the cases are from Hartford itself, several smaller, poorer “cities” such as New Britain, East Hartford, West Haven, Bristol, and Manchester, have more than 115 cases each, and bring the average way up. (See Table 1.3)
A Map of Hartford County by Town (8)
With these thoughts in mind, I guessed what percentage of AIDS cases are the result of heterosexual transmission. I could not think of our capital city only, but I had to encompass the entire county. I ventured 15%. In actuality, for Hartford County the number is 16.1%; I was extremely close. (CDC)
Without a specific “gay neighborhood,” it would make sense that the percentage of AIDS from homosexual relations wasn’t completely overpowering, and it stands at 19.3%. While I did not think that there was an overwhelming amount of intravenous drug use, I can understand that because of the smaller, lower-income towns/cities, 54.5% (Center of Disease Control) of all of the cases in the county come from sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia. (Table 1.4)
As far as speculating the number of cumulative AIDS cases in Hartford County that are male, I guessed 70%. I was extremely close: the number actually stands at 73.1%. Though I knew that AIDS can be spread in more ways than “gay sex,” I still felt that this would be the highest mode of transmission, since it was mostly what I’d been taught. Consequently, 26.9% of the population of AIDS victims in Hartford County is female, and the rate for the United States is 19.5%. What can the 7% greater percentage of women infected in Hartford County be attributed to? Is it that Hartford’s women are getting AIDS at a higher rate than the rest of the country, and there are fewer homosexuals in Hartford County? Or it might be the fact that the other modes of transmission—injection drug use, and even heterosexual sex—are more frequently the ways in which the virus is being passed along to women. (see Table 1.6)
The next question was “What percent of the cumulative AIDS cases in Hartford County are Hispanic?” I know that there is a very large Hispanic and Latino population in the city of Hartford, at 98,968 people (Census 2000), but having never heard of AIDS affecting that community in school or from the media, I ventured a guess at around 25%. With 40.5% of the population of Hartford being of Hispanic descent, I should have guessed higher, because actually, 36.6% of those infected in Hartford County are of Hispanic descent. 15.77% of the nationally reported cases are from that population. (Table 1.5)
I mostly just wondered, at this point, how all of this could happen so close to me, completely absent of my awareness. Certainly, with such a huge number of AIDS cases per 100,000 people in Hartford, the city that is right next to me, I would think that I would have been more exposed to it before coming to Colgate. Perhaps then, my estimates of the prevalence of the disease in and near my hometown would have been more accurate.