Mississippi's Capital City of Jackson has the fourth highest rate of HIV infection of any metropolitan area in the nation. That's according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the spread of HIV across the Magnolia State has reached dangerous proportions.
In 2012, Mississippi recorded more than 500 cases of HIV across the state, making it the seventh highest rate of infection in the nation. Cody Walker is with the AID's Healthcare Foundation in Jackson. He says he has seen a recent up swing in the number of Mississippians being diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
“HIV and AIDS is becoming a huge epidemic again,” says Walker. “It never stopped. It kind of slowed down with new cases, and the popularization of and education of it. Once more popular diseases came about HIV kind of fell back a lot. There wasn’t a lot of media coverage on it there wasn’t a lot of education in schools about it. Well, now we’re seeing the effects of that across the board.”
According to the Mississippi Department of Health, more then three-quarters of those diagnosed with HIV are male, while another statistic shows that three-quarters of newly diagnosed HIV patients are African-Americans.
Hubert Tate is with the Human Rights Campaign -- a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning advocacy group. He says the stigma of HIV as a homosexual only disease prevents a lot of people from being tested.
“One of the main reasons HIV continues to spread is because of stigma,” says Tate. “People may be afraid to talk openly about HIV. HIV knows no gender, no color; every one is at risk; that’s why we have to protect ourselves. That our communities know how to protect themselves from HIV.”
Dennis Troy of Pascagoula was diagnosed with HIV in 2010. He believes more education is the answer to addressing the state's increase in HIV rates.
“You’re going to have to realize that this is not something that you can get from touching somebody,” Troy says. “You can get this from blood-on-blood contact, sexual contact. They’re not teaching the young people enough. As a state we’ve got to come together and realize that HIV can affect anybody. It can affect anyone, male, female, gay, straight, white, black. It’s something that we have to talk about.”
Mississippians can get tested or learn more about HIV and AIDS at any county health clinic for free.