In an expansive review of the literature, a particular emphasis was placed on HIV-related stigma where it is the most prevalent, in states that also have limited HIV coverage across the Deep South including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and parts of Tennessee.
In the void of accurate information about HIV/AIDS, too many people believe the lie that HIV is still a death sentence. In addition, many in the South still fear that HIV can be “caught” by the simple gesture of touch, leading folks to fear that coming in contact with someone who has the virus could lead to a death sentence. Combined with lack of universal healthcare, widespread poverty, and few opportunities for rapid HIV tests, a significant portion of new HIV cases continue to emerge from the South.
A 2016 report notes that the stigma those in the Deep South face operates on multiple levels: the individual level (e.g. personal attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors), media level (how residents in the Deep South are represented in the media) and from a policy level (e.g. institutional policies, support and training). The summation of this stigma can delay critical testing, weaken adherence to treatment plans, and contribute to a host of poorer health outcomes.
Beyond inaccurate or incomplete reporting, the overall dismissal and erasure of the experiences of those who live in the Deep South with HIV/AIDS also plays a key role in driving stigma. Qualitative research done in partnership with people living with HIV in the Deep South unequivocally say that media storytelling with accurate information, public advertisement, and education are the most effective tools in the fight against HIV and AIDS-related stigma.