POZ Examines HIV/AIDS In US South

Armen Hareyan's picture

POZin its November issue examined HIV/AIDS in the U.S. South. The South --which includes 16 states and Washington, D.C. -- accounts for 45% ofnew U.S. HIV cases and 50% of all AIDS-related deaths, according to CDC.Seven of the 10 states with the highest AIDS rates also are located inthe South, and an increasing number of people living with the diseasereside in the region.

Causes for the region's increase in newcases are "varied and contentious" and include extreme poverty,unreliable HIV/AIDS-service infrastructures, and large minority andrural populations, according to POZ. The regionalepidemic has been "further complicated" by the "lingering effects" ofHurricane Katrina and a lack of federal HIV/AIDS funding, particularlycompared with larger urban areas, POZ reports.

Charles van der Horst of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hillsaid that "[c]rushing poverty and malnutrition" are factors in theSouth's HIV/AIDS epidemic, adding, "We're dealing with poor people whodon't perceive themselves at risk, people who are addicted to drugsthat make them take chances and a lack of comprehensive sex education."


John Paul Womble, director of development for the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina,said that the federal response to the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic "correctlybegan with the areas that needed it most -- large urban areas." Headded that "when the infrastructure that was built (no longer servedthe need of the people in the same way), the government didn't want tochange it, because they created it, and it worked. It's easier tomaintain the status quo than to change."

More than 21,000 peopleliving with HIV/AIDS in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi wereaffected directly by Hurricane Katrina, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation fact sheet.In addition, half of community-based prevention providers went out ofbusiness in New Orleans, where a large percentage of people living withthe disease did not return after the hurricane or came back monthslater to "find their medical coverage was lost or in disarray,"according to POZ.

In addition, the "mere actof labeling" HIV/AIDS in the South as a "regional problem" continuesthe "cultural stigma and interstate funding fights" that advocates"hope to prevent," according to POZ. Addressing thedisease in diverse states "means understanding the complex array offactors contributing to its spread and responding with culturalsensitivity and accuracy," POZ reports.

A numberof HIV-positive people, community-based organizations, foundations,public health officials and faith-based groups are "raising a loudercall" for increased HIV/AIDS awareness and support in the South,according to POZ. Although there are reasons for"pessimism and disappointment" regarding state and federal responses toHIV/AIDS in the South, there have been "notable successes and lessonslearned" that could be "applied throughout the country," POZ reports.

Andrew Spieldenner, director of programs at the National Association of People With AIDS,said that "many of the Southern states have taken creative steps inmeeting the needs of people living with HIV in their jurisdictions,including those with health departments, elected officials, faith-basedgroups and other businesses servicing the same populations." He added,"Some of this has been necessary in order to maximize resources; someof it has come out of extensive relations already existing in therespective communities" (Briggs, POZ, November 2007).

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