January 18, 2012
A new report by the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI) highlights the disproportionate impact the epidemic is having on the South.
Using CDC data, mostly from 2009, Duke University researchers found states in the Deep South -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and eastern Texas -- had the highest rates of new HIV infections compared to other US regions. The Deep South sees 35 percent of all new US infections, though it makes up just 22 percent of the country's population.
Furthermore, Deep South states lead the nation in new AIDS diagnoses. Eight of the 10 states with the highest death rates from HIV are in the region. "Delayed entry into medical care may be particularly problematic in the South due to barriers such as shortages of health care professionals and high levels of uninsured individuals," said the report.
Possible reasons for the South's high numbers include race -- blacks are disproportionately affected by the epidemic -- lack of sex education, higher incarceration rates, higher rates of other STDs, and worse health indicators overall. Stigma and ignorance about the disease also contribute, said Kathie Hiers, CEO of AIDS Alabama and a SASI steering committee member.
Michael Saag, director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said the main reasons are poverty and lack of access to medical care.
Despite the disease's impact on the South, the region has a lower rate of funding for HIV/AIDS programs than the rest of the country, the report said. "You combine those two things, as well as the poverty rates and the lack of education you sometimes get down here, and it's just a disaster," said Hiers.
To access the report, visit http://southernaidsstrategy.org/.