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      Palmetto State 8th in nation in number of AIDS cases

      COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) -- Health officials say poverty and a lack of access to health care are among the reasons South Carolina is near the top of the list of AIDS cases nationally.

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the state ranks eighth in AIDS cases with an estimated 15,000 people thought to be living with the disease.

      The CDC also reports the South has half of all the new cases of AIDS although it has only a third of the nation's population.

      Experts say equally distributed funding for education programs is a major problem.

      "The funding still goes primarily to larger what we call metropolitan statistical areas. They go to the San Fransico's, the Chicago's and the New York's of the world. The South has been disproportionately impacted by the funding," Vivian Clark-Amstead, Program Coordinator for the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council.

      The chief of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, J. Michael Kilby, says the number of AIDS cases is not a new trend. But Kilby says the public has been slow to recognize the trend.

      Poverty and lack of access to healthcare are other reasons for the increase. Ninety-six percent of the cases in South Carolina come from sexual contact, especially in women.

      Facilitator for the Positive Voices Women's Program Veronica Brisco says women have ways to protect themselves.

      "We're finding more and more women are invected with HIV. It's no longer what they considered a gay disease. A lot of people don't even realize three is a female condom. Sometimes guys don't like to use a condom. Well femailes, we have a condom for us to use," said Brisco.

      The South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council offers condoms, free STD testing, support, services and other programs for men, women and children. They encourage abstinence, but advise sexually active adults to get tested.

      "Everyone that I've had to tell that they were positive, if they had just taken those ten minutes. And until you take those ten minutes, you hae to proceed as if everybody's infected," said Clark-Amstead.

      (The Associated Press contributed to this report.)