PUBLISHED:November 29, 2011

Report says HIV epidemic in the South has reached crisis proportion

The Southeastern United States is experiencing the highest rate of new HIV/AIDS infections, says the executive summary of a research report released Nov. 29 by the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI).

The report takes a close look at nine southern states that have been particularly hard hit by the epidemic in recent years: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and (East) Texas.

“With the highest rates of both new HIV diagnoses and HIV-related deaths in the country, as well as poor social determinants of health and high poverty rates, the South faces an urgent need for resources to fight the epidemic now,” said Carolyn McAllaster, director of the Duke AIDS Legal Project and SASI project director. “We cannot afford to be complacent.”

SASI was launched earlier this year by the Duke AIDS Legal Project to advocate for increased federal resources to stop the spread of HIV in the South.

According to newly released research commissioned by SASI and compiled by the Duke Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, 35 percent of new HIV infections in 2009 were in the targeted states, which contain only 22 percent of the U.S. population. North Carolina is one of eight southern states with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. The targeted states also lead the nation in new AIDS diagnoses rates.

Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of death due to HIV in the country are in the South, according to the report. All nine states targeted in the report are among the 15 states with the highest death rates. North Carolina is one of these states.

The data also indicates that 99.5 percent of people on waiting lists for the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs live in the South.

SASI and the Duke Center will make the full report available in December.

“When people living with HIV/AIDS cannot get the care and medications they need, they risk serious illness and even death,” said Dr. Michelle Ogle, an infectious diseases physician practicing in Henderson, N.C.

SASI is a broad-based coalition of HIV/AIDS Advocates and their supporters led by the Duke AIDS Legal Project and a steering committee of HIV/AIDS experts from nine southern states. With support from the Ford Foundation, SASI is developing research-based policy and strategy recommendations to call attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis faced by Southern states and to advocate for increased federal resources.

The Duke AIDS Legal Project, which has been providing free legal assistance to low-income HIV-infected clients since 1996, offers law students the opportunity to develop practical lawyering skills through direct representation of clients under close attorney supervision. The project’s activities are conducted as part of the school’s academic mission and do not represent an official endorsement or policy of Duke University.

For more information, contact:

Carolyn McAllaster
Clinical Professor of Law
Director, AIDS Legal Project
Project Director: Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative
(919) 613-7036