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Southern AIDS Coalition Hosts Community Conversations in Jackson

For the last nine years, Juanita Davis has worked to give hope to people diagnosed with HIV and to get Black people in Jackson talking about the realities of sexual health. She serves as the director of Care4Me Services, a community-based HIV/AIDs prevention, outreach and advocacy program with the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation.

“In the Black community, we don’t want to get tested because of the stigma,” she said. “If I could take the word ‘stigma’ and just throw it out the window, we could solve this problem.”

That problem is the high rate of HIV infection for people in Jackson and Hinds County. Those figures inspired Davis to start the Care4Me Services program nearly a decade ago.

“The statistics were just alarming to me,” Davis said.

Between 2015 and 2019, most new HIV infections in the U.S. were concentrated in the South. A 2016 study at Emory University found that Jackson had the highest rate of new HIV-infection diagnoses in the country for men who have sex with other men. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Mississippi $2.5 million in 2020 to focus on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, part of a nationwide initiative to lower HIV infection rates over the next 10 years.

Juanita Davis started Care4Me Services, a community-based HIV/AIDs prevention, outreach and advocacy program, in 2014 after learning about “alarming” HIV diagnosis statistics for gay Black men in Jackson, Miss. Map courtesy Publichealth.Jmir.Org

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control outlined some challenges to preventing new HIV infections in gay and bisexual Black men.

“Racism, discrimination, HIV stigma, and homophobia affect the overall health and well-being of African American gay and bisexual men. Additionally, poverty and the associated socioeconomic factors—including limited access to high-quality health care, housing, and HIV prevention education—directly and indirectly increase the risk for HIV,” CDC.gov says. “Addressing these social and structural barriers and encouraging safe and supportive communities can help improve health outcomes for African American gay and bisexual men.”

Davis said she has seen these challenges appear in the family dynamics of people who die from AIDS. “Sometimes, if somebody

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