January 31, 2012
New estimates from the state Department of Health (DOH) show more than two-thirds of Mississippians who test HIV-positive are not on treatment, placing their health in jeopardy and increasing the risk of infecting others.
Stigma, cost, and lack of access to care are among reasons why some people with HIV avoid treatment, say health officials. Many patients "don't want others to know they're HIV-infected," said Dr. Leandro Mena, associate professor of medicine for the infectious-disease division at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
"Some people in the Delta drive here to Jackson because they don't want the stigma," said Valencia Robinson, an AIDS advocate and executive director for Mississippi in Action.
Access to care is a problem. "Where there is not reliable public transportation, patients have to rely on other people to take them to appointments, which means they have to tell them about their HIV infection," said Mena.
Another issue is HIV's link to poverty. Some 312 of the 572 HIV patients who see case managers at DOH clinics are living well below the poverty line, said Dr. Nicholas Mosca, DOH's HIV director. Patients who qualify for Medicaid are covered for up to five medications, but brand-name drugs are limited, he said.
Across the state, more than 9,500 residents are known to have HIV; almost one-quarter of them live in Hinds County. Mississippi has an HIV mortality rate of 5.9 per 100,000 population, compared to the national rate of 3.7.
DOH officials are hoping to get $6 million in state matching funds to complement $13 million in Ryan White federal funds this legislative session. The money goes toward providing HIV care for low-income residents, said State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier.