Kathy H. Kliebert, the interim secretary of the State of Lousiana's Dept. of Health and Hopsitals and director of the state's STI Program, kicked off the United States Conference on AIDS this week in New Orleans with the urgent speech about how racism, poverty, and health disparities are why the southern states have the highest HIV and AIDS rates among African Americans and gay and bisexual men.
"Where is the office of poverty?" Kliebert demanded, saying that now was the time for intersectional thinking, for activists, service organizations, politicians and admistrators, and health care providers need to look at the number one cause of HIV in the southern region of the U.S..
Though the South accounts for only one-third the U.S. population, almost half of all HIV infections are in the South. According to National Minority AIDS Council's director of legislative and public affairs Kali Lindsey, New Orleans is third in the nation for new HIV diagnoses, while Baton Rouge (just an hour north of the Big Easy) ranks second. In additional, Louisiana is ranked sixth in the nation for residents who are uninsured, but the state joined every other single state in the South, in refusing to set up insurance marketplaces or take part in the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion, an act that at least one presenter called "eseentially throwing HIV-positive people under the bus."
For that reason, the USCA's 17th annual conference was held in the Deep South. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven of the 10 states with the highest rates of AIDS disgnosis, eight of the 10 with the highest rates of HIV infection, and six of the 10 with the highest rates of individuals living with HIV are in the South.
"Given the profile of the epidemic in the South, and the region's resistence to ACA implementation, it is especially critical that we highlight the unique challenges facing those working to combat HIV/AIDS here," said Paul A. Kawata, exective director of the National Minority AIDS Council.