What can happen if the state you live in turns its back on a public health crisis like HIV/AIDS? The Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it makes the epidemic even worse. In its new report, Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in Mississippi, HRW highlights how the state does very little to provide information about HIV prevention and then in turn doesn’t fund housing, transportation and prescription drug programs for people living with the disease.
Even more alarming: Half of the HIV-positive people in Mississippi are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that of countries like Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Antiretroviral medications help to prolong the life span of those with HIV/AIDS. Lack of access to them is a death sentence.
The state also does very little to educate people about safer sex.
The Huffington Post reported:
"Mississippi is among the poorest of all U.S. states, which entitles it to substantial federal funds that could support HIV/AIDS housing and health care services. Yet it has consistently failed to take full advantage of these funds. The state recently sued to block national health care reform legislation that would expand Medicaid eligibility for many people living with HIV, with the cost borne primarily by the federal government. According to the report, Mississippi’s unwillingness to accept federal support for its residents with HIV contributes to death rates from AIDS that are far higher than the national average.
"Mississippi also clings to failed approaches to sex and HIV education, Human Rights Watch said. Mississippi has some of the nation’s highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, sexually transmitted diseases that can significantly increase an individual’s risk of becoming infected with HIV. Yet the state legislature has repeatedly refused to approve programs that provide complete, accurate information about HIV and pregnancy prevention, insisting on ineffective abstinence-only curricula in the public schools."
And, of course, the state’s complacency concerning the disease negatively impacts the black community—the same community that bears the brunt of the epidemic. “HIV is taking a devastating toll on African-American communities in Mississippi,” says Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch.
In Mississippi, while African-Americans make up only 37 percent of the population, they account for 76 percent of new HIV infections and 73 percent of those already living with the disease.
In the early days of AIDS, activists used to say that silence equals death. It seems that in the case of Mississippi, government complacency equals death.