Human Rights Watch says Mississippi policies fuel HIV epidemic

Anissa Ford's picture

Human Rights Watch has cited Mississippi politics as a prevailing force in the rise of HIV rates among people in that state. The Human Rights Watch group stopped short of comparing Mississippi politics to genocide in its latest report.

Thousands of Mississippians are at risk for HIV and many who are infected are denied lifesaving measures and treatment because of counterproductive state laws and polices, Human Rights Watch reported today.

Mississippi is the poorest nation in the United States which entitles it to substantial federal funds that could support HIV/AIDS housing and health care services. But the state has consistently failed to take full advantage of these funds, Human Rights Watch said today.

Mississippi recently sued to block national health care reform legislation that would expand Medicaid eligibility for many people living with HIV, with the cost borne primarily by the federal government. According to the report, Mississippi's unwillingness to accept federal support to its residents with HIV contributes to death rates from AIDS that are far higher than the national average.

The report also states that Mississippi "clings to failed approaches to sex and HIV education." Meanwhile, Mississippi has some of the nation's highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, sexually transmitted diseases that can significantly increase an individual's risk of becoming infected with HIV.

The state legislature has also repeatedly refused to approve programs that provide complete, accurate information about HIV and pregnancy prevention, insisting on ineffective abstinence-only curricula in the public schools. The result is the denial of potentially life-saving information to adolescents, putting them at unnecessary risk of HIV infection.

The highest rates of HIV exposure in Mississippi are among men who have sex with men. Heterosexual women are the second-largest group affected by the disease. Young people in Mississippi are becoming infected with HIV at increasingly high rates and racial disparities in HIV and AIDS infections are dramatic. African-Americans constitute 37 percent of the population but 76 percent of new cases of HIV.

"Many people living with HIV in Mississippi can't get to clinics, can't afford treatment, and can't keep a roof over their heads, while young people can't get essential information about how to protect themselves," said Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These are public health failures that threaten fundamental rights to life and health of all Mississippians."

Mississippi provides little or no funding for HIV prevention, housing, transportation, or prescription drug programs for people living with HIV. The state also threatens criminal penalties for failing to disclose one's HIV status to sexual partners.

Human Rights Watch says that half of people testing positive for HIV in Mississippi are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.


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