CNN.com (11.28.11) - Friday, December 02, 2011
Dorchester, S.C., population 2,593, is typical of the rural
towns found across the Southeast, the US region with the
highest rate of diagnosed AIDS cases: 9.2 per 100,000 people.
Rural areas like this have been particularly hard-hit by the
epidemic, primarily because of stigma, poor education, and
lack of funding.
Dr. Leandro A. Mena, an infectious-disease expert at the
University of Mississippi Medical Center, said AIDS-related
stigma begins with sex. Many socially conservative Southerners
find it difficult to talk openly about sex with their
children, let alone with strangers. "That's one of the first
barriers to really having an open discussion about how HIV is
transmitted," said Mena.
Religion can be another barrier. Mena noted the negative
associations some feel about drug use, premarital sex or
homosexuality. "Imagine the challenge that this may present in
terms of HIV prevention. How can you persuade someone - who
believes that no matter what you do, in the end you're going
to hell - that you have to do something to protect yourself?"
At Dorchester's Bibleway Holiness Church, Pastor Brenda Byrth
conducts HIV/AIDS awareness meetings. About 10 to 12 people
typically attend - a good turnout for a congregation of 25,
she said, but also an indication of AIDS' widespread impact in
this rural setting.
Tommy Terry attended Byrth's most recent meeting, which only
attracted four congregants. Terry lost his partner of 10 years
to AIDS in 2005, and was unable to find a nearby pastor
willing to pray for the man. "When somebody has AIDS, they
just walk away from you," Terry observed. "They don't want
nothing to do with you."