(Jackson, Mississippi) – Thousands of Mississippians are at risk for HIV, and many who are infected are denied lifesaving measures and treatment because of counterproductive state laws and policies, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Mississippi has resisted effective approaches to HIV prevention and treatment and instead supported policies that promote stigma and discrimination, fueling one of the nation’s highest AIDS rates, Human Rights Watch said.
The 59-page report, “Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in Mississippi,” documents the harmful impact of Mississippi’s policies on state residents, including people living with HIV and those at high risk of contracting it. Mississippi refuses to provide complete, accurate information about HIV prevention to students and threatens criminal penalties for failing to disclose one’s HIV status to sexual partners. At the same time, Mississippi provides little or no funding for HIV prevention, housing, transportation, or prescription drug programs for people living with HIV, and the state fails to take full advantage of federal subsidies to bolster these programs. In Mississippi, half of people testing positive for the virus are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.
“Many people living with HIV in Mississippi can’t get to clinics, can’t afford treatment, and can’t keep a roof over their heads, while young people can’t get essential information about how to protect themselves,” said Megan McLemore, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These are public health failures that threaten fundamental rights to life and health of all Mississippians.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 65 people in Mississippi for the report, including people living with HIV and AIDS, AIDS service organizations, and public officials throughout the state.