It’s a shocking fact: nine of the 10 states with the highest AIDS fatalities are now in the South.
In North Carolina, with the eighth highest percentage of Blacks in the nation, 22 percent of the state’s residents live below the federal poverty level, and 42 percent are considered low income.
As can be expected from that kind of poverty, Blacks show higher rates of death from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, homicide, strokes and HIV.
Those who work at the grassroots in the South doing HIV prevention face many challenges. Poverty, lack of education, continued racial segregation, discrimination and incarceration contribute substantially to the persistence of the racial disparities found in the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV.
In the face of racism and religious condemnation, southern HIV advocates are doing amazing work to save Black lives.
I had a chance to see firsthand what is taking place in the South when I was invited to speak at the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center and Williams Chapel Church in Spring Lake, NC.
Over 100 positive clients from the Fayetteville, Cumberland County area turned out for the Annual Prevention for Positives program.
Prevention for Positives events serve individuals who have already tested positive for HIV and who may be at risk of transmitting the disease to someone else. The events are meant to help people feel better about themselves, decrease stigma associated with HIV and encourage them to take responsibility for their own lives.
The clinic and the church have been collaborating since 2006. Art Jackson, bridge counselor and care coordinator for the center, and the team that consists of members of the church each year coordinate a program filled with education, medical updates and facts, and dynamic positive speakers that are working in their communities.
“Situated in the Bible-belt of our nation, many churches still perceive and preach that HIV is a result of sin,” said Jackson. “This belief stops people from being honest, seeking care and disclosing their status to others.”
Churches like Williams Chapel, where the event was held, are the exception. The chapel is known throughout North Carolina as a leader in AIDS ministry and education.
Apostle Kimberly Nixon, who has been a great supporter of the partnership, continues to be a blessing to people living with the virus.
Jackson says the norm for southerners finding out their status or finally having to address something they already knew is through emergency rooms, usually when the disease has already taken a major toll. “The fear that once recognized they will be outed and face stigma stops many from seeking early care,” he said.
This year’s program included Dr. John Hogan, the keynote speaker. He is well known in the Washington metropolitan medical community, serving on local and national committees.
Other speakers included HIV positive advocates, like Eva Fields from Atlanta GA, who told of her story of having three HIV negative children since her diagnosis at 17, while she was pregnant.
Author Khafre Abif showcased his latest anthology, “Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens,” a collection of short stories and poems and affirmations from the infected and affected of HIV
It is sad to see the increased numbers of infections in the Black community in the South made worse by racism and oppression. Instead of seeking to help, the governor of North Carolina rejected The Affordable Care Act (Obama care) in his state, even though many African Americans tin North Caroline are without health insurance.