Biggest health problems in Philadelphia: Opioids, HIV, poverty

Drug overdose deaths and homicides mean that life expectancy in Philadelphia actually dropped, following a national trend.

Shown is the Schuylkill River and view of the Philadelphia skyline, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Shown is the Schuylkill River and view of the Philadelphia skyline, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

HIV, opioids, and health disparities along racial and ethnic lines continue to be big problems in Philadelphia, according to the city’s annual health report.

In 2017, drug overdoses were the third-leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.

African-Americans still have the highest rate of premature death and lowest life expectancy.

Raynard Washington, chief epidemiologist for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said that disparity can be attributed primarily to poverty and social factors.

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“Really underlying much of this is the social determinants of health — where people live, the environment in which they live in, their ability to be able to pay their bills, and acquire healthy food at affordable rates,” he said.

And Philadelphia still has the highest HIV rates compared with New York, Chicago and other large cities.

Robb Reichard, executive director of the nonprofit AIDS Fund, said that also has a lot to do with poverty.

“We’re getting emergency assistance applications on a daily basis for people who are living below the federal poverty level with HIV,” he said.

For example, he said, people living in poverty with HIV will struggle a lot more with getting regular treatment. 
And Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of the 10 major cities in the U.S.

But there is some good news.

The vast majority of people in Philadelphia with HIV know their status, which is the first step in getting care. Those with HIV who suppress the virus with treatment will not pass it on to people without the virus, and there is an effective, though expensive, prevention pill.

And for the first time in recent years, the percentage of adults in Philadelphia who do not have health insurance dropped below 10 percent.

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