Posted Aug. 18, 2008 – African-Americans make up 22 percent of North Carolina's population but are 68 percent of reported AIDS cases, a new CBS News report points out. The numbers are virtually reversed for Whites, who make up 74 percent of the state population, but account for only 22 percent of reported AIDS cases.
The trend is repeated throughout the Deep South, where Blacks make up 68 percent of AIDS cases or higher from South Carolina to Louisiana.
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"In the African-American community, there's still not the awareness, the personal accountability," Ann White, executive director of the Metrolina AIDS Project, told the network. "Well, I really think the numbers in the South were always there, but we didn't have the resources available before to actually perform the test."
One of the issues is that traditional HIV/AIDS-prevention messages in the South are geared toward urban White gay men. However, the face of HIV/AIDS in the South increasingly is rural, young Black people, mostly heterosexual women, experts say.
For Black women ages 25 to 44, the numbers are even starker. HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death among Black women in this age group. Black women in the United States are 23 times more likely than White women to be diagnosed with AIDS, according to a report by the Black AIDS Institute.
And nearly 70 percent of Black women are infected through heterosexual contact with men they believe are heterosexual. Often that is not the case.
White says that Black men who show up having contracted HIV/AIDS from other men often don't consider themselves gay.
AIDS activists in the South believe that the region is being shortchanged when it comes to funding for treatment and prevention.
"If we could get more funding into the South, it would alleviate the problem," said Katherine Heirs of the Southern AIDS Coalition.
Congress recently increased funding for the president's global AIDS initiative by 300 percent but only increased domestic spending by just 5 percent with most of that going to large cities, not rural areas.
The inability to reach those groups “is really a threat to everyone’s well-being,” said Clarence Reynolds, spokesman for AIDS Atlanta, the largest AIDS service organization in the Southeast, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He said people who do not receive services and safe-sex counseling are more likely to spread the virus. The lack of money isn’t the only enemy AIDS fighters face in the South, the network notes.
Another cause for higher rates of HIV in the South is silence experts say.
People aren’t talking about the disease because of the stigma associated with it – it’s still considered a scourge, a curse, an abomination that befalls people who live unhealthy lifestyles. CBS talks more about the stigma in its online report Monday.