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U.S. News

AIDS Groups See Stigma, Misinformation in Mississippi

March 15, 2011

Misunderstandings and taboos surrounding HIV/AIDS in Mississippi are tantamount to those in sub-Saharan Africa, health officials told state legislators on March 9 at what is hoped to be the first of a series of Annual HIV/AIDS Days at the Capitol.

"We talked to people who said that they would rather die from the disease than let their neighbors know they have HIV," said Megan McLemore, a senior health researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW), which co-hosted the gathering with the Mississippi organization A Bright New Day and Harvard investigators. The coalition requested that legislators review several state polices, augment appropriations for treatment, and improve the sex education bill now pending gubernatorial review.

A new HRW report alleges that Mississippi has encouraged sexual orientation-based prejudice in schools, declined additional federal monies, and ignored tactics verified to decrease the spread of the disease -- thus disproportionately affecting the ability of marginalized populations to access prevention and care.

"These policies combine to create a high-risk environment where it is difficult for many people to avoid HIV infection and to access lifesaving treatment and support," according to the report, "Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in Mississippi." Harvard's State Healthcare Access Research Project also released a report indicating approximately half of all new AIDS cases arise from the South, which allocates the least funds to the epidemic. The report notes that 50 percent of the known infected are not receiving treatment.

McLemore criticized the abstinence-rooted sex education bill, and she voiced worry over the state's official resistance to federal health care reform and to state laws criminalizing HIV exposure.

Dr. Nicholas Mosca, director for Mississippi's Department of Health STD/HIV program, encourages testing and has declared HIV to be a "chronic condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure." Even so, event participants confirmed that widespread shame breeds ostracization.

Back to other news for March 2011

Adapted from:
Associated Press
03.09.2011; Molly Davis

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
HIV/AIDS in the South
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