Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Funding key to reducing cases, deaths


*This article by Marvell L. Terry II, program manager for the Southern HIV Impact Fund and AIDS United, originally appeared in MLK50.

The racism and biases impacting Black and Brown people at this moment have been an obstacle to progress in fighting HIV/AIDS for decades. Nowhere is this more evident than in the South.

Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which is today, was created two years ago to bring attention to this alarming issue: The South is the epicenter of the national HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

Of the 38,000 new cases in the country in 2018, 51% were in the South, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the region accounted for only 36 percent of the population. In Memphis and Shelby County, there were 304 newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2018, while a total of 6,090 people were living with the disease — 85.7% of them black.

The survival rate is lower in the South, too: In 2016, 39% of all deaths (6,045) of HIV-positive people in the U.S. were in “Deep South” states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas), according to a study by the Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research at Duke University.

The reasons behind this are complicated, but also similar to those we see with COVID-19. In fact, communities that have 13% or greater population of Black Americans, which are largely in the South, have an increased distribution of both COVID-19 and HIV.

Structural issues including inadequate insurance and the absence of Medicaid expansion are a factor. But they are exacerbated by systemic issues including poverty, stigma, homophobia, transphobia, and racism.

I know this firsthand because it is my own experience.

In the early 2000s, I was living in my hometown of Memphis when I was diagnosed with HIV. Funding, from sources like the Ryan White program, was not readily accessible and information was equally hard to come by.

At the time, I had never met another Black gay man living with HIV openly; I had no one to advise me or offer wisdom. I also had no idea how sick I was. Ultimately, I was put in a position that many still are today; forced to choose between medication and rent. Not wanting to become homeless, I chose rent.

My community of friends saved my life, getting me back into care, taking me to appointments, and checking to make sure I’d taken my medicine. But my experience taught me that there was a gap in organizations that understood my experience and those led by people who looked like me.

Read the full article here.