The Southern AIDS Coalition, a nonprofit partnership of government and private-sector programs based in Birmingham, Ala., has issued a report concluding that AIDS has created a health disaster in the South. They are calling for a "fundamental rethinking of HIV policy" after the new report showed that infection with the virus was rising dramatically in the South even as it dropped everywhere else in the country.
According to the report, called "Southern States Manifesto 2008", while AIDS-related deaths fell or held steady in other parts of the country in recent years, they rose more than 10% in the South. The region was defined as Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
The report was based on data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state health departments and academic researchers and identifies the extreme disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS in the South.
According to MSNBC:
Among the findings:
• Although the covered area is home to only 36 percent of the nation's population, half of all U.S. AIDS deaths in 2005 were in the South, and more than half of all Americans with HIV lived in the region in 2006.
• Nine of the 15 states with the highest HIV diagnosis rates are in the South.
• More than 40 percent of all new infections are in the South.
• Of the 20 metropolitan areas with the highest rates of AIDS cases in 2006, 16 were in the South.
'The South is faced with a crisis of having to provide medical and support care for increasing numbers of infected individuals without adequate funding,' especially among the young and among minority Southern communities, the report concluded.
'African-American women are 83 percent of all [new] cases that we can document,' said Bambi Gaddist, executive director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council and a member of the AIDS Coalition board of directors. 'And the new epidemic is young people. They're between 22 and 24.'
The Alarming Statistics
The breakdown of statistics:
Deaths from AIDS decreased in the rest of the country from 2001 to 2005, but they continued to increase in the South. Deaths (2005):
• South: 8,240
• Northeast: 3,948
• West: 2,588
• Midwest: 1,541
Cumulative deaths (2001-06):
• South: 197,209
• Northeast: 180,623
• West: 113,506
• Midwest: 54,468
Total AIDS cases
40 percent of all Americans living with AIDS are in the South. Total AIDS cases (2005):
• South: 169,972
• North: 126,867
• West: 83,405
• Midwest: 45,666
The South leads in AIDS cases and rates among minorities by substantial margins. Reported AIDS cases among minorities (2005):
• South: 18,340
• Northeast: 10,256
• West: 6,432
• Midwest: 4,925
Although it is hardest-hit by HIV and AIDS, the South receives less federal anti-AIDS funding than any other region. Total federal outlays per patient with HIV (2005):
• North: $6,963
• West: $6,718
• Midwest: $6,581
• South: $ 6,565
What factors are at play?
One has to wonder the factors that play in to this startling disparity. Could it be the "abstinence only" prevention plans of the administration that have proven ineffectual? The severe lack of funding for education and treatment? The complacency of many in thinking that HIV/AIDS is no longer a dangerous disease?
It seems to be a combination of them all.
AIDS specialists point to unequal government funding of anti-AIDS programs as a major problem in the South, where economic and cultural factors played unique roles in transmission of the disease.
Said Mary Elizabeth Marr, executive director of the AIDS Action Coalition of North Alabama:
We have specific problems here in the South, especially because of our rural areas -- transportation issues, translation, lack of access to proper health care. Education also plays a particularly important role in fighting HIV in rural communities. It can be blamed on the 'it can't happen to me factor.'
Even though we have now seen this increase in the South, we are not seeing the increase in funding for the Southern states
The Southern AIDS Coalition agrees:
The Southern AIDS Coalition blamed 'rising infection rates coupled with inadequate funding, resources and infrastructures' for what it called 'a disparate and catastrophic situation in our public health care systems in the South.'
'There are vast geographic areas that encompass large cities, less urban areas, and rural areas that result in screening, care, treatment, and housing challenges,' it said. 'Historically, the South has also received the least amount of federal funding.'
At the same time, 'only 19 percent of U.S. philanthropic commitments for HIV/AIDS' go to the South, it said.
Finding a New Strategy
Whatever the factors and reasons, it is clear that our current strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS is not working.
The solution? More funding, education, and testing.
The coalition has called for more "age-appropriate, science-driven education for prevention of all sexually transmitted diseases." They have also asked for increased federal funding for "prevention, treatment, care, and housing in the southern United States to rectify the historical inequities embedded in the federal HIV and STD funding portfolios."
The main plea is for inexpensive testing for sexually active people. Early detection of HIV can make all the difference in treatment and survival rates.
Evelyn Foust, a disease expert with the North Carolina Division of Public Health and a member of the AIDS Coalition's board, puts it best:
People in the South will die for lack of a simple test that can cost under $8 to provide, so we must work together to provide early screening.
The continued lack of funding and proper education is creating a disastrous situation in the South, and across the country. We must continue the fight against HIV/AIDS and demand that out leaders treat it as the serous, life-threatening issue that it is.