Rights at Risk (HRW examines massive failure of care for PLHIV in Mississippi)

Published: March 9, 2011

 I. Executive Summary

Donna M. is homeless and living with HIV in Jackson, Mississippi. In a conversation with Human Rights Watch, she described how the intense stigma surrounding HIV in Jackson made living without housing an even more frightening experience. Even when Donna lived with relatives, fear that her HIV infection would be discovered kept her from being treated:

    First I tore the labels off [my medicines], then I ended up throwing them away. I was scared [my family] would kick me out if they found them.

Robert B. is a gay man living with HIV near Jackson. He lost many of his health benefits after he moved from New York, but he also endures the constant pressure of homophobia.

    Being gay with HIV in Mississippi is a terrible curse. I came here from New York and it is like going back 40 years in time. Everyone treats you like dirt.

More than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV and an estimated 56,000 people become newly infected each year. Some of the highest HIV infection and AIDS death rates in the US are found in southern states such as Mississippi, where Donna M. and Robert B. are struggling for survival. Mississippi not only fails to invest in HIV/AIDS prevention and care, it also promotes punitive, stigmatizing, and discriminatory policies that undermine efforts to reach the populations most vulnerable to HIV. Mississippi has actively resisted increased federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs and services. This report presents the voices of people living with HIV in Mississippi and highlights state responses that leave people with HIV/AIDS without treatment at rates comparable to those in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

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