This week’s blog was written by the Southern AIDS Coalition in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. We are excited to have had the opportunity to partner with SAC to raise awareness of the impact of HIV in the South.
Southern states are suffering from an HIV epidemic. Data on HIV shows that 45% of people living with HIV, and 52% of all new HIV diagnoses are found in the South (AIDS Vu). In 2019, the Trump Administration announced the plan End the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America. This plan focused on increasing resources for testing, treatment, and prevention to decrease new HIV infections by 90% by 2030. The Plan focused on 58 priority jurisdictions that suffer higher rates of HIV in the country. Located in the South, the majority of these jurisdictions include 7 Southern states. In the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we also encounter many health disparities when talking about diagnosis, treatment, and access to healthcare. HIV disproportionately affects African American men and brings out systemic issues that lead to these disparities. The fight to end the epidemic cannot only focus on HIV/AIDS, but all the other factors that impede people to gain access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. It is important to bring attention to the South because the epidemic looks much different in Southern states that often were overlooked by large metropolitan areas. There are many factors in the South that affect the HIV epidemic, such as lack of healthcare, vast rural areas, lack of health insurance, transportation issues, stigma, and many other factors.
The Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (SHAAD) was launched on August 20th, 2019 by the Southern AIDS Coalition (SAC). The purpose of SHAAD is to bring awareness to the HIV epidemic in the South and amplify efforts to combat it. During SHAAD 2019, multiple organizations, health departments, and businesses fighting to end the epidemic gathered to talk about the efforts being done on the ground and sharing success stories. Additionally, SHAAD ensures to bring an array of intersectional topics that affect people living with HIV in the South and systemic issues that affect the treatment and prevention of HIV. This year the Southern AIDS Coalition will be hosting SHAAD virtually. The theme of this year’s event is Pursuing the Possible, Doing the Work. Although SHAAD is taking a virtual approach this year, it will still be an impactful event, where organizations can come together and highlight the efforts done to end the HIV epidemic in the South. SHAAD 2020 will take place during August 20th and the 21st, highlighting five different panels. These panels will be on various topics such as: amplifying Southern voices, a conversation with Gilead COMPASS Initiative, EHE in the South from a federal perspective, and finally, addressing healthcare, housing, and hunger.
Having the Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is extremely important. For many years HIV treatment and prevention have been focused on large metropolitan areas, therefore overlooking rural areas and the majority of the South. In consequence, there was a lack of funding and resource allocation to the South, which ties to the many disparities that we see in HIV today. By bringing awareness to the HIV epidemic in the South, we can gather the voices of people doing work locally and see what is working and what is not. There are unique challenges in the South that make the work in HIV harder. For example, the lack of Medicaid expansion. For many, the only way to get HIV treatment is through Medicaid. However, many people living with HIV are uninsured, which is why Medicaid expansion is so important. The vast rural areas that make up the Southern states also have an impact on access to healthcare. Obtaining care in rural areas is a challenge, and an additional barrier when it comes to finding a physician that works with HIV treatment and prevention. At SHAAD, we not only look at the problems and challenges, but we focus on finding solutions through our strengths. The work that is being done in the South to fight against HIV/AIDS is impressive. We have many strong advocates in the South doing fantastic work. Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is essential for bringing all these incredible Southern leaders and advocates to highlight and celebrate the work done in the South around HIV and AIDS. At SAC, we hope that we can continue SHAAD for many years to come because creating partnerships and coming together to share our stories and voices is how we create change.