For the first time in years, metro Atlanta has received a significant decrease in our federal AIDS funding. The story is disturbing enough. Unfortunately, it is only part of the full picture of the challenges facing people with HIV and their advocates here in the South. A loss of funding of under half a million dollars may not seem significant at first, but when combined with the already weak infrastructure of services available throughout the region, the ripple effect of decreased funding can be profound.
Every day, we live with the reality of HIV in the South and know first-hand the struggles that lie ahead. To get the full picture, it's important to look at the broad range of issues that complicate our ability to adequately address the epidemic in our own back yard.
- Southern states have historically received less federal funding for HIV/AIDS care: $5,184 per AIDS case averaged across the Southern states, compared to $5,625 per case for the U.S. as a whole (2001).
- Southern states have received fewer federal dollars for HIV/AIDS prevention: an average of $1,579 per AIDS case in the South against $1,766 per case for the U.S. as a whole.
- When these differences of a few hundred dollars per person are multiplied by the tens of thousands of people being served through our local agencies and health departments, the disparity in funding becomes enormous. It has been estimated that a special appropriation of nearly $122 million would be needed just to offset this disparity, should other funding levels remain the same.
Rapid Increase in Reported AIDS Cases
- By 2001, 46% of newly diagnosed cases of AIDS were located in the South. In other parts of the country, the numbers of new AIDS cases are either dropping or remaining the same.
- More people have AIDS in the South than in any other U.S. region, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Poor Health Infrastructure
- In some states, due to limited resources and access to health services, persons with HIV become considerably ill before obtaining access to necessary care.
- Predominantly rural states are generally poorer, have higher unemployment rates and are less educated than their counterparts with predominately urban populations.
Lack of Health Insurance
- The South is home to the greatest number of uninsured people -- an estimated 17 million.
- Latinos and African Americans are most at risk for being uninsured. Nearly one-half (46%) of working-age Latinos lacked insurance for all or part of 2001, as did one-third of African Americans.
- Lack of health insurance is linked to less access to care and more negative experiences seeking care.
- The face of AIDS is increasingly becoming rural, female, black and heterosexual.
- Seven of the 10 states with the highest AIDS case rates in the nation are located in the South.
- The South represents little more than one-third of the U.S. population (38%), but accounts for 40% of people estimated to be living with AIDS and 46% of the estimated number of new AIDS cases.
- Among the 25 metropolitan areas (pop. 500,000+) with AIDS case rates above the 2001 national average for this size, 18 are in the South. In addition, six of the metro areas with the 10 highest case rates in the nation are in the South.
- Almost 38% of the cumulative cases and an average of 49% of newly reported cases in 2000 and 2001 were in the African-American community.
- The South includes almost 19 million African Americans, almost 19% of the region's population. The region with the next highest number of African Americans is the Midwest, with almost 6.5 million (about 10% of the population).
Lack of Affordable Housing
- HIV disease is disproportionately represented in communities where stable housing environments are sorely lacking.
- Homelessness promotes continuation of risky behaviors for survival on the streets, where sex is traded for food and shelter.
- Without stable housing, those already infected with HIV are not able to comply with dosage and timing requirements for maximum efficacy of their medications.
- Eight of the 10 states with the highest percentage of population living below the Federal Poverty Level are located in the South, ranging from 15% to 19.1% living in poverty (compared to the 12.1% national average).
- Nine of the top ten states with the lowest percentage of high school graduates are in the South.
- Seven of the 15 states with the highest rate of unemployment (2002) were Southern states.
These statistics can be found in the Southern States AIDS Manifesto, available online through the Southern States AIDS Coalition (www.southernaidscoalition.org).
You can take action on this issue today by supporting efforts to secure a special appropriation. Information can be found on the AIDS Survival Project Web site about the letter-writing campaign urging Georgia Representative Sanford Bishop to introduce this legislation in the 2005 federal budget. You can also take action by recognizing the need to fully support efforts to secure additional funding for our state AIDS Drug Assistance Program, Grady Health System and local programs such as the Fulton County Human Services Department. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you must realize the crucial role that talking about these issues has. If our churches, community groups, friends and family do not know the challenges we face, we will never be able to build the support necessary to fully fight the impact of the disease spreading like kudzu through everyone's back yard.