Developing HIV/AIDS Advocacy Strategies in the South

By Rob Banaszak on September 28, 2010 in Southern Initiatives

by Jeff Graham, Executive Director
Equality Foundation of Georgia

Convening of NAF Southern REACH Grantees, Day 1

The first day of the National AIDS Fund’s Southern REACH convening was filled with reconnecting with colleagues from throughout the South who are committed to doing the work necessary to address the numerous disparities that define the fight against HIV/AIDS in this hard hit region.

Panel, National HIV/AIDS Strategy

NHAS panel

The opening panel discussed the implications of the National AIDS Strategy and federal health care reform on our work.  The South is a region that has carried an extraordinary burden with extremely limited resources.  While the promise of both the newly released National AIDS Strategy and the passage of federal healthcare reform are reasons for hope, they also present a new set of challenges.  Southern states have unique barriers in fully implementing both of these new strategies.  State legislatures are mostly hostile to the expansion of Medicaid to new populations and there are great concerns that as additional people enter the system, low reimbursement rates and restrictions on the services offered to those currently enrolled will result in further disparities if not adequately addressed.  And while the National AIDS Strategy does specifically mention the burden of the South, many of the recommendations do not adequately address the need for increased resources to alleviate the historical underfunding of services, especially in rural communities.

Panel on impact of HIV/AIDS on Latinos

Panels on both legal strategies and the special needs of Latino/Hispanic communities further defined the specific challenges facing people living with HIV/AIDS and their advocates.  Harsh criminal penalties for HIV transmission and the growing trend of using health care settings to identify and arrest undocumented migrant workers, while not unique to the South, add a new sense of urgency to our work.

Day 1 closing strategy discussion

The day closed with a discussion of how to identify and implement effect strategies to address the growing list of challenges and disparities. Throughout the discussion it is apparent that the people gathered here in New Orleans are truly committed to justice.  With the vision and support of the National AIDS Fund and the Ford Foundation, Southern HIV/ AIDS advocates are finding new resources, gaining new allies and crafting new strategies to address an epidemic that has had a distinctive impact on our region.

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