September 7, 2012
One in three new HIV cases in Tennessee is from Shelby County, though it accounts for just 15 percent of the state's population. An overwhelming proportion of the cases are young black men, according to information presented Wednesday evening at a town hall meeting that attracted about 100 people.
"Anywhere you have a culture of judgment and sexual shaming, the HIV rates are high," said panelist Marvell Terry, founder of the Red Door Foundation and organizer of the event, which was held at Methodist University Hospital.
Many people with HIV in Memphis also struggle with poverty, hunger, and homelessness, said panelist Leisha McKinley-Beach of the Mid-South AIDS Fund. "We're never going to end the epidemic just looking at the disease without looking at the entire person," she said.
The five panelists and audience members discussed ways to improve HIV services and overcome testing and treatment barriers such as poverty, stigma, and fear. One area of great need is streamlining the process of moving from diagnosis to retention in comprehensive care.
"I didn't get into care for two years after being diagnosed," Terry said. "Stigma trapped me from getting into proper treatment. It took friends, like some of the people that are in this room tonight, to get me there."