You might think HIV/AIDS has been relegated to a Third World problem, but the virus is ravaging populations right here in the American South. Some 50% of new HIV cases occur in Dixie, which is home to more HIV-positive Americans than any other region and also has the country's highest AIDS death rate. Poor minority areas often lack effective treatments, particularly given the often-late diagnoses, writes documentary filmmaker Lisa Biagiotti in the Los Angeles Times. Mississippi provides a case in point: Half its residents who know they have HIV aren't being treated—the same figure seen in Ethiopia. Mississippi's death rate is 60% higher than the national average.
In the South, "HIV is a social illness affecting a deeply entrenched underclass," Biagiotti notes. "Deeper than poverty," the epidemic can trace its roots to a social structure still feeling the effects of slavery, says a researcher. Young gay black men face a 60% chance of contracting HIV by the time they're 40, and for many, the only escape is moving out. While President Obama is attacking the epidemic in cities, that population-focused effort may not "translate to rural areas," Biagiotti writes. As the International AIDS Conference takes place in Washington, let's hope they turn their eyes southward. Click for Biagiotti's full column, or more on her documentary, deepsouth. (Read more AIDS stories.)