According to a recent study that pulled data from the CDC, Georgia ranks third in the nation for HIV risk. It also has one of the highest numbers of new HIV cases in the country.

Georgia is not unique among southern states, however. Nearly all the states that rank top 10 in HIV risk are located in the south.

Statistics show that the disease disproportionally affects the African American population, many of whom live in poverty and have limited access to health-related services. Men are also more likely to receive an HIV diagnosis than women.

The disease is particularly prevalent among gay black men in Georgia. Rates among young Georgians have also seen a jump.

While veritable treatment options for those affected by HIV now exist, the disease is fatal when left untreated. Incidentally, Georgia ranks in the top 10 for AIDS deaths in the U.S.

High Incidences in Rural Communities
Tift, Lowndes, and Colquitt counties have some of the highest HIV rates in the state. Why are the HIV rates so high in rural Georgia? There are a few compelling reasons:

Social stigma. One of the biggest issues is that there remains a stigma around HIV and AIDS. People aren’t as motivated to seek out a diagnosis, get treatment, or get educated on preventative care. In certain religious circles, talk of sex, especially intimacy that involves same-sex partners, is extremely taboo, which makes it difficult for people to openly seek help or educate themselves about the disease.

Lack of healthcare and healthcare coverage for uninsured, low-income individuals. There is a lack of resources available for people who are part of marginalized communities. Georgia trails behind most other states when it comes to medical treatment for those with HIV.

Lack of trust from certain communities. Reaching out to specific populations — the Latino community, for example — is challenging because of the current political climate and immigration issues. Another barrier to access involves discrimination from medical professionals.

Lack of funding and available medical professionals to help HIV patients. Many rural communities don’t have the appropriate resources to handle or treat HIV patients, let alone provide people with testing.

What’s Being Done?
A lot of work needs to be done to improve the situation in Georgia. President Donald Trump’s recently announced anti-HIV plan, for instance, is a start, but it largely ignores many affected rural communities in the state. The distribution of PrEp, a pre-exposure prophylaxis pill taken to prevent the contraction of HIV, is an important step toward lowering HIV rates. Still, officials must make sure that rural areas are not left out.
In addition, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill to facilitate needle exchange programs earlier this year, which aims to reduce the disease spread among drug users. There’s still, however, a lot of work that needs to be done to improve healthcare access for rural populations and decrease stigma surrounding HIV diagnosis.

Written by: Steph Coelho

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