Neglecting HIV/AIDS in the Southeast
This photo from our interactive data map shows the prevalence of AIDS diagnoses in 2006.
November 27th, 2011
08:00 AM ET

Neglecting HIV/AIDS in the Southeast

Dr. Vincent Marconi travels to Durban, South Africa, every summer with his family to work with hundreds of HIV and AIDS patients. Despite global support for research and high-profile activists, AIDS continues to batter many developing countries. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimates that there are 5.6 million people in South Africa alone living with the deadly disease.

Still, after every trip to Africa, Marconi returns home to Atlanta, Georgia, to continue his work at the Ponce De Leon Center, one of the largest HIV/AIDS facilities in the United States. The center's staff provides medical services to approximately 5,000 men, women, adolescents and children.

Here in the southeast U.S., he says, HIV/AIDS is very much a neglected problem.

View our interactive data map

“A great amount of attention has been put overseas,” said Marconi, who's also an associate professor at Emory University's School of Medicine. “Especially in these economically challenged times, we tend to be myopic in our efforts in our charitable giving. People say, ‘I’m already giving towards the international HIV effort - I can’t see two epidemics happening.’ No one wants to believe that extreme poverty and neglect exist in such a rich and powerful nation as this one.”

At the end of 2008, an estimated 1,178,350 persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV or AIDS in the United States. And the CDC estimates that approximately 50,000 people are infected with HIV each year.

In the southeast, the epidemic is growing faster than in any other region in the country. African-Americans constitute 12% of the population in the United States but account for approximately 45% of those newly infected with HIV, according to the CDC. And some of the South's biggest cities topped the CDC's list of diagnosis rates in 2008: Miami. Atlanta. Memphis, Tennessee. Orlando. New Orleans. Charlotte, North Carolina.

Patrick Packer, executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition, describes it as the “perfect storm.” The coalition was formed in 2001 to bring attention to the HIV/AIDS outbreak - what the group calls a state of emergency in the South. The problem is three-fold, Packer says: stigma prevents education and promotes fear; socio-economic factors prevent the infected from receiving medical attention; and the lack of a focused strategy prevents agencies from using the few resources available effectively.

This week CNN Health’s team is taking a close look at the epidemic with a series leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1.

CNN technical producer Curt Merrill worked with data from the CDC, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and the National Minority Quality Forum to create an interactive map showing the prevalence of AIDS and HIV in the United States compared to our levels of obesity, stroke, heart disease and male/female life expectancy. Click here to see the areas most affected and to search for your county or state.

On Monday, Jacque Wilson profiles Pastor Brenda Byrth, who is taking a stand against the HIV/AIDS stigma in rural South Carolina. Then on Tuesday, Madison Park analyzes the growing problem in northern Florida.

On Wednesday, Elizabeth Landau introduces us to Crystal, a homeless drug addict in Atlanta whose top priorities are getting clean and finding a place to live – not dealing with her diagnosis. On Thursday, Robert Johnson presents a photo story about the crisis facing a government-run drug program for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The series will culminate with an in-depth look at the work being done at the Ponce De Leon Clinic and the hope for a solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southeastern United States.

Please take a moment each day to read these stories and tell us yours. If you or someone you know has been affected by AIDS, visit the CDC's website or AIDS.gov to find out more.

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Filed under: HIV/AIDS

soundoff (60 Responses)
  1. Kevin

    This disproportion in the United States is unacceptable. Over 90 percent of people on ADAP waitlists are in the south. Many of the southern states most affected have slashed budgets or completely eliminated funds for prevention. All the while the US is pledging more money to send overseas for HIV/AIDS initiatives. We are nearing 7,000 ppl on ADAP waitlists (AIDS Drug Assistance Programs). Let's focus on our domestic AIDS problems before looking to solve the problems overseas.

    Twitter: @RiseUpToHIV

    November 27, 2011 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • constant vigilance

      Are people in the southeast USA too stupid to use a condom every single time? Cost of condoms <<<<<<<<<<<< cost of lifetime treatments. Behavior has consequences. Stop expecting everyone else to clean up your own mess.

      November 28, 2011 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Americans now hate each other so much that they shout at others to clean up their own mess. Sometimes it is a child's mess. Americans need to really care about our country, enough to HELP, and not throw people away. What is our military defending, if not Americans? What Americans are we defending overseas, if we throw them away here? I have no problem with helping overseas, but it is all hype to publicize our might and wealth. Who cares who caused this problem: if our country were under attack by a foreign invader (which HIV is), would you say, "now you should have shut your doors and not gone outside." Wouldn't you be trying to rescue everybody, no matter how they got into trouble? I really don't get it. I am shocked that states that call themselves Christian would not help other human beings in trouble, right next door.

      November 28, 2011 at 23:56 | Report abuse |
    • Hikerstud

      This article is a lie. More money goes to aids than cancer and heart disease combined. Huge amounts of money from the majority goes to this little tiny segment of society. We are talking less than .003% whereas cancer affect tens of millions.

      December 1, 2011 at 12:00 | Report abuse |
  2. Joan Barrett

    I just finished watch the program Next List hosted by Sanjay Gupta and I thought it was one of the most interesting shows I've seen on CNN. The show content addressed a restauranteur in Chicago experimenting with food. I would like to put a word in for more programming like this show.

    November 27, 2011 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. heather

    I had thought that hiv meds were just made available to the poor for free in the US just a few years ago. People didn't want to know that they are infected if they could not afford the meds. And also, those meds are known to make you feel sick. Many people in Memphis TN live day to day. If they are to weak tn work for even a few weeks, they will be homeless. And not everyone wants to live a long life. Some people would rather die young then be elderly homeless. (that is why they have so many children. so that hopefully one of them will be able to care for them in their old age) And when some people look around them, they see a world that has done little to nothing to assist them in their basic survival. So they do not feel a sense of responsibility to not infect the people around them. As a matter of fact, the more people infected, the more services there will hopefully be when they reach their end. I don't believe America grasps the state of education in places like Memphis and what that results in as far as peoples idea of their future, and the choices that they make, based on that.

    November 27, 2011 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tim

    In FL, our wonderful governor Rick Scott, has cut funding for HIV care for the indigent...really smart move. What he has done should be a crime. As a matter-of-fact, money is being returned to the federal government by Scott's administration that should be used for these services. Is it any wonder that we have the problem that we do. Goes to show you, those people with the big bucks make the decisions for the lives of everyone.

    November 27, 2011 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Gov. Scott should be charged with murder for every person who dies of AIDS that he stood in the way of helping.

      November 29, 2011 at 00:19 | Report abuse |
    • runnerjen

      Rick Scott is the reason I made sure to update my voter's registration when I moved. I'm registered Dem but I haven't had too much of an issue with our Repub governors... except Rick Scott. His real paycheck clearly comes from large corporations, not the people, and I don't think he'll see a second term.

      November 30, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Someone needs to give Rick Scott aids

      December 2, 2011 at 17:33 | Report abuse |
  5. q

    The US needs took take care of our own, and stop wasting american tax dollars in other countries

    November 27, 2011 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Danilo

      Very true sentiments. It is a siimlar situation in Asia-Pacific & it doesn't help that my country (Papua New Guinea) has the leading number of STI prevalence in the region! There have been so many initiatives to combat diseases regarding sexual and reproductive health (specifically among youths & adolescents), inclusive of HIV/AIDS, but these aren't effective If we are truly serious about tackling these issues,we have to start thinking OUTSIDE THE BOX! Looking forward to meeting you all in NEW DELHI, & remember that whatever little you're doing is contributing towards something much greater! Best wishes

      April 9, 2012 at 12:44 | Report abuse |
  6. Mel

    Also notice how much of the southern states are strictly following abstinence only education and then look at where the highest rates of STD transmission occurs. Clearly its not working. Funding for education and prevention needs to stop being cut!

    November 28, 2011 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • riley

      Agree. I see that where I live in the south. They expect 25-40 years olds to be celibate as well. Not realistic.

      November 28, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse |
    • SuwanneeSum1

      It is a big problem in the Bible Belt. Unintended pregnancies are blessings, but condoms and education are things of the devil. You can buy pregnancy tests, but good luck finding contraception at the local small town stores. Even if you are a married adult.

      November 28, 2011 at 23:55 | Report abuse |
  7. Common Sense

    Not everyone can get HIV/AIDS some are immune

    November 28, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Very very very very very.... few. There are a few people with genetics that do not let them get sick... ever, with anything. Even they take precautions around pathogens. The article and map is talking about the serious spread of a deadly disease, caused by neglect of a health epidemic by state governments. The article is not about the freak 1 out of a million or billion that don't ever get sick.

      November 28, 2011 at 23:45 | Report abuse |
  8. BD76

    We have known what prevents the spread of HIV and AIDS for over 20 years! There is no reason that there are these numbers for the spread of the disease. Despite the education, there is still ignorance out there. 10 years ago I worked in a high school outside of Boston. The biology teacher showed the movie And the Band Played On, and I was horrified that almost all of the kids (sophmores) thought that only people who were gay got HIV or AIDS. The next day the other teacher's aid I put together a class on the rate and risk for teens, and how to prevent the spread of the disease. It was eye opening for them and for us. The numbers were scary...on something that is preventable!

    November 28, 2011 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Thank you for doing your job as a teacher. I wish all teachers and school systems did. Some parents and governments won't allow it; and that kills people.

      November 28, 2011 at 23:47 | Report abuse |
  9. Cici

    I have grown more skeptical about such statistics
    During my research on the topic of HIV /AIDS, I came across research material
    that scientifically argues against commonly held beliefs like
    1)HIV causes AIDS
    2)POSITIVE HIV test indicates HIV infection.
    3)Low CD4/TCell is a sufficient indicator to assess health of a HIV positive person

    I would encourage everyone to go through all of these .
    Think for yourselves.
    House Of Numbers

    Emperor's New Virus
    HIV AIDS fact or Fraud
    G Edward Griffin:
    Rethinking Aids

    November 28, 2011 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Next, you'll be telling us that vaccines cause autism. This is BOGUS research done by QUACKS.

      November 28, 2011 at 23:48 | Report abuse |
    • askanepi

      Speaking as an epidemiologist and public health professional, you are ill informed and are actually harming public health by spreading such ridiculous propaganda. HIV is the causative agent of AIDS, that has been shown irrefutably. Testing is always duplicated to ensure accurate results and a number of diagnostic tools are in place to measure progression of the virus. Your "research" and claims are complete nonsense and are anti-science in every sense of the word.

      November 29, 2011 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
    • Cici

      Thank you for your responses, I have my reservations about this too. I shared these, as this was something I never heard of all these years and the researchers include nobel prize winner and well accomplished Professors/Doctors in virology. They spoke in length about science and they are not speculating anything. Last but not the least readers please use your own judgement, not trying to proselytize.

      November 29, 2011 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
    • Columbus Res

      I find your post rather insulting as I've lived with this disease for 17 years... They are absolute quacks...In addition, are you HIV + ?If you arent, I suggest you keep your misguided thoughts to yourself.

      November 30, 2011 at 13:51 | Report abuse |
    • Cici

      @Columbus Res, apologies if this post hurt you, did not mean to hurt anyone.

      Found the links interesting and scientifically convincing and hence shared it. I believe, as a progressive society we should know different perspectives to a problem and identify if there is any validity in those claims. And as a community, concerned about issues affecting us we should help each other to identify truth.

      Again the thoughts/arguments mentioned in the links are not mine, I am researching it further. Wish you all the best.

      November 30, 2011 at 16:27 | Report abuse |


    November 28, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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      January 31, 2012 at 23:53 | Report abuse |
  11. hayleeg

    I'm moving to NM or AZ

    November 28, 2011 at 20:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      No data available in the white areas, doesn't mean no cases. And welcome to the land of bubonic plague and leprosy.

      November 28, 2011 at 23:50 | Report abuse |
    • Gambler

      With everything that aaepprs to be developing inside this particular area, all your viewpoints happen to be fairly refreshing. However, I beg your pardon, but I do not subscribe to your whole suggestion, all be it exciting none the less. It would seem to everybody that your remarks are not completely validated and in fact you are yourself not really totally confident of your argument. In any event I did enjoy reading it.

      November 16, 2012 at 00:24 | Report abuse |
  12. Elizabeth

    I do not think I will ever see a more shocking map of mass extermination caused by neglect. This is equivalent to concentration camps... over a million people who have HIV, and no education or even treatment, because states choose to refuse Federal help? What kinds of people are being targeted for extermination, let me guess, the poor? Most people in this country are religious Christians. We can't continue this neglect.

    November 29, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • @askanepi

      These maps are a very misleading. If you look at the legend, the most severe classification (darkest red color) ranges from 95.5-1,457 cases per 100,000. Experienced spatial epidemiologists and statisticians would not use a range that wide. It does not paint an accurate picture of the problem.

      November 29, 2011 at 09:57 | Report abuse |
    • Morgan

      Hey, Chris, I'm in NOLA, too. Most poor people here are not that desperate . . . yet. But we just re-elected Bobby J, so in four more years . . . high school guidance counselors may be suggesting that as a career path.

      November 29, 2011 at 20:45 | Report abuse |
  13. danielalston

    the cure for hiv/aids is in keystone light beer and miller light beer

    November 29, 2011 at 09:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert

      Haha! Thanks for sarihng...how I miss good ol'Springville High! Glad to hear you're back up on your feet and what a beautiful little boy...congrats!

      February 1, 2012 at 02:39 | Report abuse |
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  14. chris frierson

    Im sure im going to get flak for this post, but it needs to be said. My mother does clinical trials for different pharmaceutical companies on HIV/AIDS patients in New Orleans, La. She has been told by both patients and patients family members about "chasers", people who intentionally infect themselves to recieve the free medical treatments and living expenses provided to AIDS patients. Some of these chasers have other medical conditions that are extremely costly, and thus infect themselves to have those other medical conditions covered. Others just want the free money provided through disability and welfare for these patients.

    November 29, 2011 at 18:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Devon Duncan

      Chris, honestly that really does not seem at all far fetched in the slightest way. In this day and age, I would not put that past people to do. Sad facts of this world we live in.

      November 29, 2011 at 19:38 | Report abuse |
    • Facu

      Here are links to pages of illustrations, piutercs of the AIDS cell, charts and diagrams bout the disease, symbols and cartoons about HIV/AIDS. These images should trigger some good ideas for you for your project.How about the graphic symbols for male and female the circle and slanted arrow, and the circle with a cross, intersecting with the curved, pink awareness ribbon? Maybe with an sad eye with a tear added?Good Luck on your project.

      November 14, 2012 at 18:41 | Report abuse |
  15. Morgan

    Hey, Chris, I'm in NOLA, too. Most poor people here are not that desperate . . . yet. But we just re-elected Bobby J, so in four more years . . . high school guidance counselors may be suggesting that as a career path.

    November 29, 2011 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. gwen

    Thank you CNN for your coverage in highlighting the disparities of HIV/AIDS infections in the South. Stigma and discrimination continues to hold us back from advancing towards and end of HIV/AIDS. We can end this epidemic, we can get educated, get tested and get treated if we need to be. We have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy now all states need to step up and develop State Stratgies, then County Strategies, City/Town Strategies, and Personal Strategies to reduce the number of people who become infected with HIV, to increase access to care and optimize health outcomes for people living with HIV and reduce HIV related and other health disparities. The challenge is difficult but surely not impossible.

    November 30, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. r3g

    I'm sure if the color codes represented population density the chart would be very similar.

    December 1, 2011 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. david

    as someone who has had hiv and aids for 25+ years, you get the virus hiv and when it multiplies enough in you and your cd4 or t-helper cellls get below 200 and you get an opertunistic infection you have aids. as for bug chasers, yes there are some people who do whant to get infected but its not for the silly reasons most of you think. remember you do not get the correct information from a news station, they only have a few minutes to talk about 30 years and most of the time they end up scaring more people than they help. and just to let you know soc. security disability does not pay you that much ( under 1000 a month) and my perscripton for hiv is over 2,200 amonth. so get informed and remember nothing is ever as you hear it and life ( even in this country) is more than you can imagine.

    December 1, 2011 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. TheTruthisNear

    America's D I C K is riddled with AIDS?! lol

    December 1, 2011 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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