Mississippi has one of the highest rates of HIV infections in the nation...now community and religious leaders are taking a stand against the virus.

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Community and Faith Leaders Work Together to Lower HIV Infection Rate

By Daniel Cherry | Published 07 Feb 2012 07:19pm | comments

Mississippi ranks 6th in the nation for new cases of HIV infection...a huge majority of those are African Americans. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how black leaders in the state hope to curb a growing HIV epidemic.

One in four people infected with the HIV virus don't know it. That's why health officials are working to step up testing efforts statewide.

"Yeah I went and did it myself...here's the band-aid."

That's Derrick McAfee. He's a junior at Jackson State University. He just took a free HIV test on campus. His results were negative and he's glad to hear it.

"It helps you become more careful. Even if you find out you're negative, you're still more careful. Not knowing is just as bad as knowing and having it, because you're reckless."

In Mississippi, African Americans make up less than 40 percent of the population, yet account for nearly 80 percent of HIV and AIDS cases. Advocates almost unanimously agree, the root of the problem lies in a lack of communication. Othor Cain is one community leader in Jackson spreading the word. He says one way to curb the HIV epidemic is to coordinate with faith based organizations.

"On any given Sunday morning a preacher gets into the pulpit, he has a captive audience. We are some religious folks, and we believe that if our pastor, preacher, or faith leader would embrace, endorse this, or talk to us, then we believe change would be effective."

So far, many religious leaders have gotten on board. C.J. Rhodes is the pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson. He says faith leaders have too long turned their head on the issue. He thinks it's time to take a new approach.

"We're scared of sex in the South, but we all know everyone's doing it. We have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, highest rates of all these other things. It doesn't mean that we're endorsing it. We just have to talk about it so we can create solutions for our people."

Advocates say eliminating the misinformation and stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS is the first step to eliminating the disease.




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