HIV rates are declining across the country, but black communities in the South are still facing an epidemic, CBS News reports.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the South has the highest rates of transmission in the United States. There are 40,000 new cases of HIV reported every year in the U.S., and over half of those cases come from the region.
Deja Abdul-Haqq works for Open Hands, a LGBTQ healthcare center in Jackson, Mississippi, and she is on the frontlines of this epidemic. She says socioeconomic issues contribute to the high rates of infection.
“We have a high poverty rate. Our education systems are inadequate. Our health care systems are inadequate," Abdul-Haqq told CBS.
Stigma is also a factor. People aren’t getting educated and tested for the virus because of fear.
“A lot of the people that are HIV positive are afraid. They're afraid to speak out because they're afraid of the rejection," said Jacqueline Wilson, who has been living with HIV for 12 years. "Some of my family members ... didn't want me around them because I was HIV positive."
Wilson said accessibility to healthcare is another issue. Treatment centers can be few and far.
“If I don't have a ride, then I don't get to see my doctor," Wilson said.
Abdul-Haqq believes controlling the virus in the South would benefit not just Southerns, but the whole nation.
“We collectively have to figure out a way to get to zero here," Abdul-Haqq said. "If we can get to zero in Jackson, I believe the United States of America can say firmly that we have eradicated HIV in America."