Road signs along I-65 freeway in Indiana with stigmatizing language have been removed, according to Indiana State Department of Health. Reports of a road sign with “Warning HIV Outbreak” on the side of an Indiana highway broke yesterday when a photo of what appears to be an Indiana Department of Transportation sign circulated the internet.
“The picture was taken today by someone that I know who wishes to remain anonymous” Morenike Giwa-Onawu, of the AIDS Clinical Trial Group said. “They took it themselves with their phone, inside Indiana.”
Onawu wrote that the photographer told her it was found at the rest area on I-65 at mile 72, just south of Indianapolis.
“They were upset [and] messaged [the] pic to a few friends who are also in HIV affected families (myself included),” she wrote. “One of the people who was messaged called the Indiana Board of Health and they confirmed that they were responsible for the sign and referred them to the Office of Public Affairs and then Amanda Turney’s office for complaints.”
Turney, the deputy director for public affairs at the Indiana State Department of Health, did not clarify whether the health department was involved in the sign placement or not, nor did she comment on how the signs appeared.
In an email statement to HIV activist Josh Robbins, publisher of I'm Still Josh, spokesperson Kenneth Severson wrote, "It has been removed."
Turney later told reporters, “The Indiana State Department of Health primary concern is to assist with the HIV outbreak in Scott County and there was a miscommunication along the way regarding the signs. The signs have been removed.”
How the sign appeared or why is still unclear, though early speculation was the signs may have been intended as part of an Indiana State Department of Health outreach program to truckers, as the sign was placed on a heavily used trucking route. However, many doubted – and Turney’s statement seems to confirm – that the message on this particular sign was sanctioned by the ISDH.
'These messages are hysteria-driven, dangerous and misleading," said Executive Director of the Positive Women's Network - USA Naina Khanna. "They fuel stigma, discrimination and violation against people living with HIV and those perceived to be at risk for HIV. The state health department and bureau of transportation should use this opportunity to make a statement correcting myths and misperceptions about how HIV is transmitted."
Electronic signs were used in Scott County near Austin, Ind., the epicenter of the recent HIV outbreak, though the messages displayed then encouraged HIV testing alongside info including the hours and the location of the emergency command center set up to cope with the outbreak.