When you think about HIV in the United States today, I would bet that New York City and San Francisco come to mind. But what about Birmingham or Memphis?
A new frontier
Over the past 30 years, the landscape of HIV in the United States has changed dramatically, shifting away from the coastal and urban centers where it first emerged and establishing a new foothold in the southern United States. In 2015, the South accounted for an estimated 38 percent of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, an estimated half of all new HIV diagnoses occurred in the South. Not only are Southerners more likely to contract HIV, they are dying at higher rates of AIDS as well. This is unacceptable.
Our response to HIV must include the struggle against inequality, discrimination and stigma in the South. These forces conspire to stop people from knowing their status, accessing care and preventing new infections. Simply put, we cannot achieve our national goals for HIV if we do not focus on the epidemic in the South.
Spirit of activism
The South has a rich tradition of social justice activism. We must tap into that proud heritage of mobilizing against hate and disenfranchisement to succeed in ending illness and death from HIV. That’s just what AIDS United has sought to do over the decade it has spent investing in the South. And it is this vision that motivated Funders Concerned About AIDS to convene five of the nation’s leading funders of HIV programs to launch the new collaborative Southern HIV Impact Fund.
The Fund will support organizations across the South in formulating a coordinated, more effective response to the disproportionate impact HIV has in the region. Our partners will work to tackle the very issues at the root of the epidemic’s persistent toll – racism, poverty, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Fighting these will turn the tide of the epidemic.
In today’s divided political climate, this may not be an easy task. But putting an end to HIV and fighting to preserve our nation’s health is not a political issue. It is a fight that will take all of us to win, and win it we must. I urge you to join us in this struggle. An AIDS-free South and an AIDS-free America are possible.
Jesse Milan Jr., J.D., President and CEO, AIDS United, [email protected]