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Discussing the Southern (HIV/AIDS) Strategy

November 19, 2009

ONAP director Jeff Crowley and participants at the Jackson National HIV/AIDS Strategy Town Hall
ONAP director Jeff Crowley and participants at the Jackson National HIV/AIDS Strategy Town Hall
The White House AIDS policy staff was in Jackson, Mississippi this week for the latest stop on their listening tour to discuss the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The discussion brought more than 300 people from across the South.

And while topics from incarceration to housing to prevention were all brought up, as the Associated Press reported, the refrain was clear: More funding to fight AIDS in the South.

Participants came from Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida, but by nature of the location, there was an emphasis on the situation in Mississippi. A group of students from Jackson high schools stirred the crowd with comments about the need for sex education in schools and the need to combat stigma.

State AIDS Director Craig Thompson gave a speech that drew mixed reactions. While Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Patrick Packer praised Thompson's presentation about AIDS services in Mississippi and said it was "well-received", some who live in the Mississippi were unimpressed.

"He tried to make Mississippi look like something it's not," said James Robinson, field organizer for AIDS Action in Mississippi. "I think we need to do more." Robinson cited the lack of programs for heterosexual men in Mississippi as one of the services needed.

In recent years, the Mississippi Department of Health has been criticized for failing to apply for a CDC grant for prevention funding for men who have sex with men and for stalling on developing long-term housing for people with AIDS.

Thompson was not available for comment by press time.


AIDS Goes South

"We have to have funding that follows the epidemic," said Patrick Packer, the moderator for the discussion. "I think the national HIV/AIDS Strategy will help with disparities. We need care and treatment dollars in the rural areas and throughout the South."

During the the Ryan White CARE Act Reauthorization, which was just signed by President Barack Obama last month, there was another chance to address the disparity, but advocates and Congress decided to stick with the status quo. The Ryan White Reauthorization in 2005 shifted $30 million to the South. But with 50 percent of the country's epidemic, the South does not receive its fair share of federal funding.

While a restructured Ryan White CARE Act could address some problems, the lack of funding in the South is largely structural. Because of the lack of money the Southern states contribute to Medicaid funding, people must depend on ADAP, which in turn creates to waiting lists and people without medication. The same problems are seen with distribution of HOPWA funding and other federal dollars.

And extreme stigma and the lack of necessary prevention in many places exacerbates the crisis. Many participants at the meeting this week courageously revealed their HIV status, despite that stigma.

This week, Detroit also held an unofficial national HIV/AIDS strategy discussion. The next White House HIV/AIDS Strategy is today in Ft. Lauderdale. New York's meeting is on December 4.




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