When we think about HIV/AIDS in this country, we often label it a Northern, urban area or big city problem.
More and more data, however, is showing that AIDS affects many people living in the South, especially rural areas. Not only are AIDS deaths in the U.S. the highest in the South, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly half of all new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. are centered there, too. And cities topping the CDC's list of highest rates in the entire U.S. include Miami; Atlanta; Memphis, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; New Orleans and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Of those new diagnoses, African-Americans are disproportionately affected. While we make up only 12 percent of the population, we account for 45 percent of all new HIV diagnoses. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost half of African-Americans living with AIDS and most new AIDS diagnoses among Blacks are in the South.
A recent USA Today article highlights an even more troubling trend: The lack of HIV specialists in the region. The report discusses how lack of funding plays a factor and how advocates from the region are hosting a roundtable to discuss how to remedy this problem. The story reported:
There are much higher concentrations of HIV specialists in traditional "epicenters" of the HIV epidemic — 411 in California; 275 in New York state — compared with 243 in the nine Southeast states, says Bruce Packett, deputy executive director of the American Academy of HIV Medicine. This concentration of expert care "just isn't rationally representative of HIV incidences by state," he says.
Looking closely at data from the American Academy of HIV, for the entire state of Mississippi, where rates are extremely high, only four cities have HIV specialists. South Carolina has six, and Louisiana only three.
In Mississippi, one way to provide care to patients who live in rural areas is by using technology. USA Today wrote:
One such effort: People in poor or rural communities with limited HIV specialists can meet with a doctor through a health program electronically with a video hook-up.
Montgomery AIDS Outreach, a group that has about 1,200 active medical patients in 26 counties of south-central Alabama, recently launched such a program, medical director Laurie Dill says. A doctor at the Montgomery hub consults via video with a patient and nurse at the satellite site in Selma, about 50 miles away.
"You're having a real-time, face-to-face conversation, except that it's electronic," Dill says.
For people living with HIV/AIDS, staying in care and adhering to medications is the difference between life and death. And staying on medication reduces the chance the virus is transmitted to HIV-negative people.
Learn more about HIV in the Black community here.
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(Photo: Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Landov)