Friday, August 17, 2007

Rural Virginians Cope with Limited HIV Resources - Tidewater Officials See Spike in ‘Down-Low’ Cases

This article from the Washington Blade ( reports on matters that are not that surprising given the realities of resources and outlook in Virginia outside of certain metropolitan areas. The two biggest obstacles to reducing HIV in Virginia's rural areas (and some urban areas) are (1) the anti-gay, head in the sand mindset of conservative churches, particularly black churches, and (2) limited medical and related resources.

The area referenced in the article on Virginia's Eastern Shore, for example, has only one hospital and very limited medical facilities. In addition, outside of gay friendly pockets like Cape Charles, in many ways the local social outlook is a couple of decades behind areas like Northern Virginia, Norfolk, and Richmond. Even in more progressive areas, the black churches - there are a number in Norfolk - preach anti-gay rhetoric and refuse to admit that HIV is a huge issue in the black community, both among men and women. Here are some highlights from the Blade Article:

RICHMOND, Va. — Administrators and caseworkers in southern coastal Virginia have confirmed the findings of a national study that found AIDS on the rise in rural populations among men who have sex with men. A report revised in 2006 by the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies and the AIDS Research Institute, University of San Francisco, found 60 percent of the rural AIDS cases throughout the U.S. involved gay sex, while transmission through intravenous drug use accounted for 20 percent. The report cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which said 68 percent of all rural AIDS cases in the nation were found in the South.

“In 2000, the rate of new AIDS diagnoses was three times higher for the South than for other rural areas in the U.S.,” it said. “In certain areas of the South, the rate of HIV/AIDS diagnoses is almost as high in rural areas as it is in urban areas.” Ann Verdine-Lewis, director of education for the Tidewater AIDS Task Force in Norfolk, Va., and Brian O’Dell, Tidewater’s program director, said they have seen an increase in HIV cases among black and Latino migrant workers on the “down-low” on the Eastern Shore and other rural areas of the state. These are straight-identified men in heterosexual relationships who also have sex with men.

The national report said blacks represent half of all rural AIDS cases, Caucasians, 37 percent, Latinos, 9 percent and Native American/Alaska Natives, 2 percent.

Sadly, until improved educational and medical resources are available and there is a stark change in the approach to gays in church communities, I do not see the situation improving. Of course, limited health insurance coverage in many impoverished rural areas only further aggravates the situation.

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