Fanning the Flames of the AIDS Crisis in the U.S. South
Recently, Mississippi’s State Department of Health announced it will no longer offer HIV screenings for free. Effective July 1, the Health Department began charging a $25 fee for all sexually transmitted diseases and HIV tests and lab work at all of its clinics. You may think that this is a relatively nominal fee and unlikely to have many ill effects. Think again.
What is happening in Mississippi is, in fact, fueling an already raging fire. The U.S. South is home to 44 percent of all people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.
The situation is even more dire in “Deep South” states,  which include Mississippi. Not only do these nine states have the highest HIV and AIDS diagnosis rates and numbers, 43 percent of all HIV-related deaths in the country take place here. At the same time, in other U.S. cities such as New York and San Francisco, HIV rates are dropping precipitously, creating the mistaken perception that national resources can be scaled back. In reality, we are creating a chasm in the response.
The reasons behind the AIDS crisis in the U.S. South are complicated. Higher poverty rates certainly play a part. Four states in the region have the largest proportion of uninsured people in the country. Tacking a fee onto testing services, as Mississippi is doing, will, of course, only exacerbate existing financial barriers to receiving care.