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State Intensifies Efforts for HIV Testing and Treatment

By Rhonda Miller | Published 08 Nov 2011 12:21am | comments
Paul Overstreet of Gulfport

Mississippi ranks number six in the nation for HIV.  MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports the state is stepping up efforts for testing and treatment.

When he was in his mid-30s, Paul Overstreet of Gulfport got tested for HIV.

"I kind of wish I had went back in the past and probably got tested earlier. Because you’re better off knowing than not knowing," Overstreet says. "I could have probably saved my liver and all that stuff a lot of trouble, because I was on a lot of toxic medicine. I now have cirrhosis."

Overstreet is now 47 and a community activist who says the stigma of AIDS still creates so much fear in Mississippi, people go to other states to get tested.

"People play it safe by saying they’re HIV positive. I am going to say I have AIDS. Because I think we need to break the ice.," Overstreet says.

The state does have support groups, like the AIDS Services Coalition in Hattiesburg, which has transitional housing for homeless people living with AIDS. Executive Director Kathy Garner says Mississippi’s lack of adequate health care multiples the problem.

"People who don’t seek health care regularly are not going to find out they’re HIV positive. That’s a big, big issue here," Garner says.

Even though the state health department has free and confidential testing, state HIV director Dr. Nicholas Mosca says more information will be available from community groups, churches and drug stores.

"We don’t work directly with pharmacies at this moment, but we have pharmacies scattered throughout the state," Mosca says. "One of our strategies for the future is to see if we can spread information, correct and consistent information, more readily through that model." 

Mosca says HIV is still such a stigma for some people, they don’t get tested because they don’t want to know.

"We also have people who, once they learn their diagnosis, are sort of immobilized either by depression or other factors and they don’t know what step to take next," Mosca says. "So our goal through education is to hold hands and help them understand how to get into care and the benefits of care for them."

 Mississippi has nearly 10,000 people who have tested positive for HIV.



Paul Overstreet of Gulfport



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