HIV/AIDS has been a problem in the United States for the past three decades. Many groups have worked tirelessly to educate the public on how to prevent transmitting HIV/AIDS and how to protect yourself from getting it in the first place. The fact that we knew so little when the epidemic first hit made it difficult for people to know how to protect themselves, but now that we are more knowledgeable and many myths have been largely dispelled it seems that we should be in a state of decline. HIV/AIDS cases should be at an all time low yet the rates have stayed largely the same since the 1990’s and have increased dramatically in the South and mainly among African Americans and women.

Let’s look at Alabama for instance, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention African Americans, who make up only 26% of Alabama’s population, accounted for 72% of new cases of HIV. And the data is similar for most of the Southern states and especially the Deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina). Between 2000 and 2003 the number of new AIDS cases increased 35.6% in the Deep South compared to 4% in the other Southern states and 5.2% nationally*. Not only are residents of the Deep South becoming infected with HIV at a higher rate they are also among the states with the highest death rates related to AIDS.

These rates are incredibly alarming. One explanation for why the HIV/AIDS rates has increased is due to the high levels of STI’s in the Deep South, which are the highest in the nation. STI’s have consistently been found to increase the risk of HIV transmission. That leads us to the question of why there are such high levels of STI’s. AIDS Alabama and SIECUS connect the HIV/AIDS rates to abstinence-only education which is prevalent in Alabama and across the South. Since 1998 when Alabama began receiving federal funding for abstinence-only education the STI, HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy rates have increased. Yet Alabama is still using these programs even though many studies have proven abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. Alabama, in particular is suffering from extremely poor health conditions.

The fact that the South and the African American population is greatly suffering from this disease needs to be addressed. Comprehensive Sexuality Education programs need to be instituted to educate people about STI’s, HIV/AIDS and contraceptives. People need to know how to protect themselves. They are not learning it through medically inaccurate, gender stereotyping, religion promoting, homophobic and shame based abstinence-only programs.

Call on your Representatives to GET REAL! and support the Responsible Education About Life Act. Our lives depend on it.

For additional information:

*HIV Infection and AIDS in the Deep South

AIDS Alabama

Southern AIDS Coalition

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States

About the Author
Grace Garner

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