Are Human Rights Violations Behind the AIDS Epidemic in the South?

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 7:  People fill out paperwork before getting tested for HIV during a free HIV testing event at by the Whitman-Walker Health February 7, 2012 in Washington, DC.  Whitman-Walker Health held the event to observe National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Are Human Rights Violations Behind the AIDS Epidemic in the South?

Denying people access can increase their risk for HIV.

Published July 28, 2014

Despite popular belief, the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic isn’t New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco. It’s in the Deep South with Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and east Texas being hit the hardest.

Nearly half of all new infections occur south of the Mason-Dixon line.

And African-American men and women were hit the hardest. Just look at Alabama: In 2011, African-Americans were only 26 percent of Alabama’s population, but Blacks were 69 percent of new HIV diagnoses. In the state, African-Americans are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than whites and 78 percent of all HIV diagnosis in women are Black women.

So what’s the deal?

According to a presentation given at the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) in Melbourne, Australia, last week, Megan McLemore, J.D., LL.M., senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch stated the following is fueling AIDS in the South:

—Highest rates of poverty.

—The most prisoners.

—The most uninsured patients.

—The weakest safety net programs.

—Failure to invest in HIV programs.

—Abstinence-based education.

—Hostility toward LGBT individuals.

—Criminalization of HIV exposure.

—Few needle exchange programs.

But McLemore and her colleagues take the debate to the next level — the disparities are also about human rights violations. And while we may often believe that these violations happen in the developing world or in nations with dictators, McLemore believes that the following are being denied to folks in the South:

—The right to health.

—The right to disease prevention and information.

—The right to treatment and services.

—The right to be free from racial discrimination.

—The right to equal access to public health services.

And while this approach may not address all of the issues that impact HIV infections, McLemore hopes that in stressing the connection between human rights violations and HIV/AIDS, they can convince local politicians to change policies and laws and to reduce stigma and ignorance that continue to place all Southerners at risk.

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(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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