AIDS In The Bible Belt

Sarah Stillman addresses the crisis:

One of the strangest things about the H.I.V. epidemic in the Deep South—from Louisiana to Alabama to Mississippi—is how easily most Americans have elided it, choosing instead to imagine that the disease is now an out-there, elsewhere epidemic. It’s a plague from some anterior time, some exterior continent, something our kids will read about in books or that we glimpse as history in the movie “Dallas Buyers Club.” …

“If you think about where the rates are highest, it’s in the most conservative places,” [Deon] Haywood [director of the New Orleans-based prevention organization Women with a Vision] told me.

“It’s where the conversation is not being had, and where shame and stigma exist because of religion, because of culture, because of racism, because of homophobia—you name it, it exists for those reasons.”

The vast overlap between the social ailments of the South (like poverty) and the physiological ones (like disease) is not merely theoretical. “When you think about the South, we have the highest rates of H.I.V.,” Haywood continued. “But we also have the highest incarceration rates, and we don’t have comprehensive sex education—we have abstinence-only education.” Nationally, one in seven individuals living with H.I.V. passes through the correctional system annually, which tends to amplify their risk factors. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate not only in the country but in the world. It’s another reason that Haywood’s group has become increasingly involved in broader policy work.