South lags behind in tackling HIV/AIDS

caines | 11/30/2011, 7 a.m.

FAMU professor points to troubling CDC numbers

Andrew J. Skerritt, a longtime journalist and instructor of journalism at Florida A&M (FAMU), believes the U.S. has failed to adequately address the threat of HIV/AIDS in southern communities places that are heavily populated by Blacks and in traditionally rural regions. He adds that regional and cultural shame associated with HIV/AIDS still persist, along with other challenges. These communities often lack education, funding and clinics so that victims can get regular medical attention, he said. Black men in particular need to take responsibility for their actions and their sexual behavior whether they are having unprotected sex with women or with those of the same gender. As for Black women, the rise in infection rates that we see now are not only impacting their self-esteem but impacting the health of those who have traditionally kept the Black community whole and healthy our women. Skerritt recently released the book Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. In it he chronicles the life of one impoverished familys history and depicts how taboos about love, race and sexuality combined with Southern conservatism, white privilege and Black oppression continue to create an unacceptable death toll as the 21st century unfolds. Black women are the fastest-growing population of those with HIV but they tend to be excluded from the conversation, especially in the South, Skerritt said. Young Black men have the highest infection rate in the U.S. but women are second. We have to include all of the people at the table and encourage them to speak out. When Black men are impacted the numbers of Black men decrease when Black women are impacted, the numbers of families decrease. Skerritt also takes a close look at the Black church and what many are doing, or not doing, in southern pulpits and congregations in the battle against HIV/AIDS. I guess you could say I am hopeful but not optimistic, he said. The Black church is still moving far too slowly. Infection often causes guilt and shame. And in the southern conservative traditions of many Black communities, the church tends to reinforce that guilt and shame. We dont need to focus on how people became positive. We need to help them live their lives and provide them with all the support we can. They are members of our families and communities. Disturbing statistics Between 2001-2005, AIDS deaths decreased in the rest of the U.S, but rose in the South,. Of the top 10 states with the highest percentage of Blacks with AIDS, eight are in the South. Six of the top 10 states in which the highest percentage of women who have AIDS are in the South. Southern states had 46 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases but only received 34 percent of funding because they had fewer metropolitan areas that qualified for city grants. Blacks account for two-thirds of new HIV/AIDS cases among women. The rate for Black women is nearly 15 times higher than that of whites and four times that of Hispanics. In 1986, Blacks represented 25 percent of all AIDS cases in the U.S. In 2004, Blacks represented 50 percent of all AIDS cases. Statistic from Centers for Disease Control. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com