Believe it or not, it has only been three decades since the first case of HIV was diagnosed. Since then, the number of cases in the U.S has exploded, aided in no small part by the fact that more than one out of five people with HIV don’t even know they have the disease. The situation is especially dire in the South, where half of new HIV infections in the country are reported even though the region accounts for only 37% of the population.
The infographic below illustrates just how bad the situation is. In Memphis, there is only one HIV specialist per 1,142 people diagnosed; in Arkansas, there aren’t any specialists at all.
“There are some key social determinants driving the epidemic that lead to the concentration of diagnoses that we’re seeing in the South,” explains Ronald Johnson, VP of public policy and advocacy for AIDS United, an organization that aims to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S.. “They include poverty and very limited access to care, healthcare infrastructure that has particular gaps in it, problems accessing HIV care, and the continuing impact of racism and discrimination that fuels the disproportionate impact that HIV has on African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities.” Add to that the cultural conservatism in the area (read: homphobia and HIV discrimination), and we have ourselves a real problem.
AIDS United has a number of initiatives in the South to try to alleviate the problem, including a program in Alabama that offers hairstylists in training the opportunity to receive training that makes it easy for them to talk to clients about HIV protection; a telemedicine program to allow patients to receive counseling via phone; and a mobile HIV/AIDS care van in North Carolina.
It’s a start, but there is still plenty of work to be done.