GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The HIV epidemic impacts people throughout the entire nation, but southern states today account for more than 50% of new HIV cases annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are many factors that contribute to the rising HIV epidemic in the south and communities here in eastern North Carolina are working to find solutions.
“What we recognize is in the south shame and isolation reams very negative health outcomes and when there is a lack of accurate information around HIV, folks tend to be less likely to be engaged in care and to feel socially supported in their communities,” says Dafina Ward, the interim executive director with Southern Aids Coalition.
Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the impact of HIV in the south also varies by race.
African Americans are disproportionately impacted, accounting for 53% of new HIV diagnoses in 2017.
CDC says poverty and unemployment could also be contributing to the higher concentration of HIV and other chronic diseases in the southern region.
“I think the main problem that we see is not being tested so a lot of persons who are infected don’t know they have an infection, so if you’re not tested you won’t know if you’re infected,” explains Paul Cook, a professor of medicine at the Brody School of Medicine.
The Ryan White HIV/AIDS program in Greenville is working to provide a system of care that includes primary medical care and essential support services for people living with HIV who are uninsured or under-insured.
You can access more information on the Ryan White Program here.
Access barriers also preventing people from receiving adequate HIV and health care services.
“A lack of readily accessible transportation, challenges around the lack of Medicaid expansion in southern states, a lack of information when it comes to public education talking about the reality of sexual health and HIV transmission in our schools,” says Ward.
The Southern Aids Coalition is part of the Gilead Compass Initiative, that works to build on community-driven solutions when it comes to this disease.
One organization here in Greenville is part of this effort.
Ward shares that Circle of Friends is one of 11 organizations that were identified by a grant review committee as having an idea that would meaningfully address HIV related stigma in North Carolina.
They’re receiving a 40K transformative grant to implement LAMPS, which stands for ‘leaders advocating mentoring personal grown and support program’.
It will begin in January of 2020.