A recent report from the Southern AIDS Coalition and its partners has found that the U.S. South faces an unequal burden when it comes to HIV. The region, according to the report, has the highest rate of HIV-related deaths in the country.
The Southern AIDS Coalition, the Center for Health Policy, and Inequalities Research at Duke University, and the Duke Global Health Institute produced the report, titled HIV in the U.S. Deep South: Trends from 2008-2019. It found that while the Deep South’s nine states possess 29 percent of the country’s population in 2019, it still accounted for almost 44 percent of new HIV diagnoses. Those states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
The report's release coincided with the third Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on August 20.
“This report documents the most currently available data on HIV epidemiology and describes related sociodemographic, financial and health-related factors that influence the disproportionate burden of HIV in the Deep South,” Susan Reif, a Duke University research associate and author of the report, said in a press release.
Researchers concluded that while there have been improvements in HIV prevention strategies, most people were not on PrEP. The region also has high poverty rates and low insurance coverage compared to other U.S. regions.
“The continued disproportionate impact of HIV and low PrEP uptake in the Deep South demonstrates a critical need for evidence-based and coordinated strategies at the federal, state, and community levels to effectively address HIV in the region,” the study stated.
Other conclusions from the report include that while the rate of HIV transmission in African-Americans in the Deep South decreased between 2008-2019, the rate was eight times that of white people in the region. The researchers also found that diagnoses of STIs were higher in the Deep South than in other parts of the U.S.
Georgia had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses — 26.2 per 100,000 people. Florida and Louisiana came in second and third, 23.9 and 23 per 100,000 people respectively.
“To successfully respond to ending the HIV epidemic goals by targeting funding and creating and implementing effective HIV prevention and care programs, it is critical to document current HIV epidemiological trends and better understand predisposing and associated influences in the U.S. Deep South,” Reif explained.
Dafina Ward, the executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition said that in order to confront the epidemic there has to be recognition of the continued systems of oppression and injustice that continue in the region.
“We can’t just talk about HIV in Southern states without talking about lack of affordable safe housing, lack of Medicaid expansion, and the fact that we don’t have comprehensive sexual health education or protections for LGBTQ+ people in many states,” Ward said. “These are important disparities that run deeper than HIV/AIDS and healthcare and we must call attention to those facts.”