In 2012, the Mississippi Department of Health reported 547 new cases of HIV infection in Mississippi. The vast majority of those reported were from men having sex with men. The incidence rates were seven times higher for black men than their white counterparts. Othor Cain, media coordinator for Mississippi Faith in Action says the stigma surrounding the virus perpetuates the epidemic and prevents people from getting tested.
“The silence really is killing us. This subject even in 2013 is still taboo. People are still are still afraid to talk about it, people still live in shame. And so that’s what we’re doing now, trying to break the silence. We’re also trying to debunk the myth that religious leaders are afraid to talk about social issues in the pulpit.”
“There are so many isms about AIDS. Although you don’t hear as much about it it’s still alive and it’s still killing individuals.”
Reverend Joe May is Pastor of Anderson United Methodist Church in Jackson. He says the good news is that people can live with AIDS with the help of proper medications and responsible lifestyles.
“So we’re coming together as a coalition of churches with the hope that we can spread the news that we can and that we ought to be responsible to our behavior and in our actions. And that we should treat persons with AIDS as persons of worth for whom God created. And as a good neighbor we should reach out to them and encourage them and support them in their situation.”
Bishop Ronnie Crudup, Pastor of New Horizon Church in Jackson recently took a live swab test to demonstrate how easy testing for HIV can be.
“Our pews are filled with people who are touched by HIV in some kind of way. Whether that may be someone who has it personally. Or somebody who has a family member who has it. And so we’re encouraging every faith based group and church across the state of Mississippi. Let’s get involved and lets change this in Mississippi.”
Mississippi ranks 7th in the nation for new cases of HIV. While the virus is treatable experts say early diagnosis is the key. Free, confidential testing for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted diseases is available at any county health departments across the state.