City Releases AIDS Statistics

Total of 62 Cases is 3rd Highest Per Capita in State

Cambridge has the third highest incidence per capita of AIDS among Massachusetts cities, according to a recent report by the Cambridge Committee on Health and Hospitals.

The report, which was released in last week's City Council meeting, states that 62 Cambridge residents--out of a total 90,000--diagnosed with AIDS as of late September. Only Provincetown and Boston have reported more AIDS victims per 100 citizens.

But city and state officials said that the statistics in the report may not mean very much.

Larry J. Kessler, executive director of the Massachusetts AIDS Action Committee, called the results "interesting artifacts," but added that statistics are only a temporary indication of the actual situation in Cambridge because of the "ever widening pool of those infected with the virus."

Almost 75,000 case of AIDS have been diagnosed in the United States, including almost 2000 in Massachusetts. Experts estimate that between 1 and 2 million Americans have been infected with the virus.

Kessler said that the large Haitian population in Cambridge may account for the high number of cases because Haitians as a group are "disproportionately affected [by AIDS] on a per capita basis." Many of the early AIDS cases found in the Western hemisphere were discovered in Haiti.

"The figures are nothing new. They change from month to month," said Dr. Melvin H. Chalfen, Cambridge commissioner of health and hospitals, who also downplayed the importance of the reports. He added that Cambridge officials are more concerned that "the curve [of those inflicted with AIDS] is going up," than with precise figures.

A group called the Cambridge AIDS Task Force was organized in the summer of 1987 to help Cambridge plan ways of dealing with the AIDS epidemic, Chalfen said. The group is composed of volunteers appointed by city manager Robert W. Healy who represent a cross section of cityresidents.

"Cambridge is mobilizing its forces to dealwith AIDS. It is looking ahead and identifying itsresources," Chalfen said.

City officials this April appointed the city'sfirst Community Health Coordinator. JenniferBurgess Wolfrum, to work with the AIDS Task Force.Boston, which is second to Provincetown as thecity with the highest percentage of AIDS percapita in the state, has had a similar healthcoordinator for six years. Because of its smallersize, Province town relies solely on a publichealth nurse.

Since her appointment Wolfrum has helped begina program called Cambridge Cares that thecommittee report said will work to educate cityresidents about the disease and to provide medicaland social services for people infected with theAIDS virus. The program directors have applied forvarious government grants to increase theirresources, Chalfen said