Local AIDS workers say Memphis’ role as a new epicenter of HIV reflects a host of contributing factors.
CDC data show than in 2010, metropolitan Memphis had the nation’s fifth-highest proportion of newly HIV-infected residents with 33.7 per 100,000 population. Only Miami, which was tops with a rate of 49.7; Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Miss.; and New Orleans ranked higher.
Kim Daugherty, executive director of the Memphis-based HIV/AIDS nonprofit Friends for Life, said these cities’ metropolitan areas all share some common features: They are located in the South and have large black populations, high levels of poverty, large health care disparities, and soaring STD rates. “We have sort of a perfect storm for HIV,” she noted.
The local epidemic is exacerbated by the fact that Memphis ranks second-to-last in meeting the HIV-related needs of black men who have sex with men, according to a recent report by the Black AIDS Institute. Only Gary, Ind., fared worse.
Memphian Marvell L. Terry II recalled his initial reaction to the phone call with test results indicating he was HIV-positive. “I went back to work like nothing happened,” he said. The 26-year-old has since formed a foundation providing support to those diagnosed or affected by the diagnosis of a loved one.
But on reflection, Terry attributed his initial response - numbness, and unwillingness to face facts - to the stigma against AIDS and homosexuality prevalent in the black community. “I think we are a culture that is not willing to have that conversation about HIV and AIDS,” he said.
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