With the pandemic still taking lives and ravaging our health care system, we still must bring attention to the HIV epidemic, another health crisis still affecting our communities. Rolling out sat down with the executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition, Dafina Ward, to help us answer questions about the status of HIV during the pandemic. As Southern states continue to lag behind in healthcare and access, organizations like the Southern AIDS Coalition are working towards gaining access and creating policies that support comprehensive sexual health education.
How has the pandemic affected HIV statistics?
We really don’t know yet what impact COVID will have on new cases of HIV. What we do know is that Black and Brown communities, those with limited financial resources—are also being disproportionately impacted by COVID. Not just by the virus itself, but also in the form of economic loss that manifests in a range of dire challenges and hardships for individuals, their families, and our communities. More than half of the people living with HIV in this country live in the south. If we want to end the southern HIV epidemic, then we have to address these structural barriers.
How does the pandemic expose people to risky behavior?
I am concerned about the many things that people are doing to cope during the pandemic that could have lasting consequences—and potentially impact the rates of HIV in our communities. We don’t know how much of an increase we will see in survival sex, injection drug use, and other behaviors that could result in HIV transmission. I am also concerned about the mental health impact that will result from isolation, hopelessness, and other conditions that are a natural fall-out of the pandemic.
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