CNN.com (11.28.11) - Wednesday, December 21, 2011
In 2008, CDC statistics showed Jacksonville had the fifth-
highest number of AIDS diagnoses among US cities. While the
state says this could have been a statistical aberration due
to changes in Florida's reporting laws in 2007, local
advocates say the problem is real and acute.
Social issues lie at the core of Jacksonville's epidemic.
"Here in Jacksonville, we're kind of the buckle in the Bible
belt," said Donna Fuchs, director of the Northeast Florida
AIDS Network. "HIV carries a huge stigma in our city."
"You can go to Miami and you can put up a billboard, you can
talk about condoms, AIDS, and sex. You can't do that in
Jacksonville," said Todd Reese, associate director of Health
Care Center operations at AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).
"People will be offended. They don't want to talk about it or
When AHF opened a Magic Johnson clinic in the city to serve
HIV/AIDS patients a decade ago, organizers moved the ribbon-
cutting ceremony indoors because visitors feared being
associated with the disease. The clinic no longer bears
Johnson's name: "The only way we can get people to come
through the door is to create a fictitious name," Reese said.
"No one walks into any building or floor that has any
association with HIV."
Dr. Bob Harmon, director of the Duval County Health
Department, said the local population profile "is more like
Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi than it is central and south
Florida. That generally means higher rates of poverty, lower
rates of completing high school and college, and higher
percentage of African-American population."
In the first half of 2011, Duval County saw a 33 percent
increase in HIV cases. "This disease is ruining lives, and
it's still killing people, especially low-income people who
don't get tested enough and who don't get treated early,"
"Denial is the biggest problem," Reese said.