South Carolina is known by most Americans for its long, sunny days, gorgeous Atlantic Ocean beaches and outstanding golf courses. Unfortunately, most public health professionals know South Carolina for its staggering rates of HIV and AIDS. This is a public health issue which needs to be understood better by the public, particularly on WORLD AIDS DAY.
South Carolina ranks 8th among all U.S. states and District of Columbia in AIDS case rates. I work for Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services of South Carolina, Inc. which is the state's longest serving AIDS Service Organization founded in 1985. We are located in Columbia, the state capital, which the CDC ranks 9th among all U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas in AIDS case rates. Yes, this includes New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Atlanta, etc.
Our mission is to provide education, health and social services to persons living with and communities affected by HIV and AIDS. Stigma, education, responsibility and the need to know one's status are the focal points of our prevention activities. According to the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, as of December 2007, over 14,600 persons have been diagnosed and reporting living with HIV/AIDS in South Carolina. There are an estimated 780 persons who are newly diagnosed with HIV infection, including AIDS, each year in South Carolina. By gender, 70% of new infections occur among men and by race, more than seven out of every ten are African Americans.
Stigma in the Bible Belt is a tremendous problem as the negative attitudes and actions by community members and service providers toward persons with HIV and those at risk keep people from getting an HIV test to know their status, seeking HIV care and treatment, or participating in HIV prevention services. On November 24, this year, Columbia's local newspaper, The State, had the following headline in the Metro Section: "Hate Crimes for race, religion, sexual orientation rise in S.C." The article reported a 20% increase over the previous year. In Columbia, sexual orientation led, with race 2nd in reporting.
Numerous problems were presented recently by an eclectic group of self advocates, family members and providers when staff from the White House Office of National AIDS Policy held a public forum in Columbia SC in October 2009. In addition to stigma, these problems include:
• Reaching Infected and High Risk persons with Limited Technology
• Physician Shortages
• Homelessness and Unstable Housing
• Geographic HIV Funding Disparities
• Corrections Population Challenges
• High Teen Pregnancy and STDs Rates Among Youth
• Unacceptably Large HIV Client Case Loads
• High HIV and STD Rates
• Lack of HIV/STD and Viral Hepatitis Prevention Funds
• Need for Expanded Testing Resources
• Lack of Transportation
• Need for Consumer Training to Deliver Peer-Based Services
• Increasing Demand for HIV Primary and Specialty Care
The shame of it all is this: South Carolina is generally at the top of the lists in which you desire to be at the bottom and vice versa. The needs are great; the resources are scarce, if present at all.
By Jim Manning, MSW & MPA
Director of Program Services
Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services of South Carolina, Inc. (PALSS)
Originally published on RHrealitycheck.org