August 7, 2012
The South sees half the nation's new HIV infections, despite having only slightly more than a third of the U.S. population. African Americans account for half of men, and almost three-quarters of women, newly diagnosed with HIV in the South.
Causes for the disparity include stigma, lack of HIV testing, limited education about sex and HIV, widespread poverty, less access to health care, and prejudice against homosexuals. Many people in the Deep South are not getting tested, and "HIV is exploding in these states," said Carolyn McAllaster, director of the Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative.
"We are seeing a lot of late testers," said DeAnn Gruber, director of Louisiana's HIV/AIDS program. Nearly 25 percent of people newly diagnosed with HIV in Louisiana already have AIDS.
"There are a lot of undiagnosed people out there," said Laurie Dill, medical director of Medical AIDS Outreach of Alabama (MAO), southern Alabama's largest HIV clinic. Over three-quarters of MAO patients live below the poverty line -- $23,050 for a family of four. Just 10 percent have private insurance, and 40 percent have no insurance.
"There are many, many people in this state who have been diagnosed, but are not in care," said Harold Henderson, director of the HIV clinic at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.
Those who earn less than $10,000 annually are three times more likely to have HIV than those making over $50,000, according to CDC.
To improve access to HIV specialists, MAO in January launched a telemedicine program linking doctors in Montgomery to patients in Selma, 50 miles away. Next year, MAO and two other clinics will provide that linkage at six sites covering two-thirds of Alabama counties. The three-year, $2.4 million pilot is being funded by MAO, the federal government, and AIDS United.