Last summer when I was in Washington, D.C., I learned about the resurgent HIV/AIDS epidemic in our nation’s capital, something that most Americans have heard nothing about. It’s an outrage and a tragedy, and the fact that HIV is both preventable and treatable makes our inaction morally indefensible — and this is going on at the seat of our national government.
But the problem is widespread across the American South, and shouldn’t be forgotten. When I lived in New Orleans, I worked for the New Orleans AIDS Task Force (NO/AIDS) in their prevention department, and saw first-hand the impact that HIV has on individuals, families, and communities. I also saw how a hostile Louisiana state government actually cost people their lives, through discriminatory policies, bizarre Hester Prynne-style laws, and unexplainable shunning of federal funds.
So I’m glad to see that Human Rights Watch has released an excellent report detailing the state of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in neighboring Mississippi. This truly is a human rights issue, right here at home.
This 59-page report documents the harmful impact of Mississippi’s policies on state residents, including people living with HIV and those at high risk of contracting it. Mississippi refuses to provide complete, accurate information about HIV prevention to students and threatens criminal penalties for failing to disclose one’s HIV status to sexual partners. At the same time, Mississippi provides little or no funding for HIV prevention, housing, transportation, or prescription drug programs for people living with HIV, and the state fails to take full advantage of federal subsidies to bolster these programs. In Mississippi, half of people testing positive for the virus are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.
Take a look at the whole thing, and please watch this video below. Thanks to Human Rights Watch for bringing attention to an issue that’s been neglected for a generation.