In the decades since the first AIDS cases were reported in Los Angeles and New York City in 1981, the epicenter of the nation’s HIV epidemic has shifted from urban centers along the coasts to the 16 states and District of Columbia that make up the South. The South now experiences the greatest burden of HIV infection, illness, and deaths of any U.S. region, and lags behind in providing quality HIV prevention and care to its citizens.
Southern states today account for an estimated 44 percent of all people living with an HIV diagnosis in the U.S., despite having only about one-third (37%) of the overall U.S. population. Eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses are in the South, as are the 10 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with the highest rates (CDC HIV Surveillance Report, 2014). Diagnosis rates for people in the South are higher than for Americans overall: In 2010, the region had the highest rates of HIV and AIDS diagnoses in the country, as well as the highest number of people living with HIV compared to all other regions (SAS Report, 2015).
2017 marked the second year of the CFAR HIV in the Southeast Workshop, at gathering of researchers and community organizers from CFARs across the country. This year’s event was held in the Cal Turner Family Center at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee on March 24, 2017. The Tennessee CFAR hosted the workshop.
CFAR investigators and staff, along with public health workers and community representatives, collaboratively addressed the nature of the shifting HIV epidemic at the workshop. Discussions and panels identified shared resources and strategies to combat the epidemic, ways to engage the community and methods to influence public health policy to better serve people living with or at risk for HIV in the Southeast. Attendees had the opportunity to hear plenary speakers present on NIH priorities and initiatives relevant to HIV/AIDS in the South, necessary components for collaboration between health departments and CFARs, and use of molecular surveillance data to identify clusters of HIV infection.
The UNC CFAR was well-represented in panel discussions as leaders in the field: Erika Samoff spoke on the panel “Working with Health Departments, including Rapid HIV Transmission Networks/Phylogenetics”, Heidi Swygard spoke on the panel “PrEP Implementation, Linkage, Retention, and Rapid ART Initiation”, Bill Zule shared on the panel “HIV and the Opioid Epidemic”, and Caressa White led a discussion on “Effective Approaches to Community Engagement”. Following the panel discussions, attendees joined in conversation about priorities and action items for the future.
Workshop planners are now collecting information from participants in the Southeast CFAR Workshops (Atlanta 2016 and/or Nashville 2017) to assist all participating CFARs, justify supplemental funding for a potential third workshop, and maintain momentum for the organization. The work to address the epidemic in the Southeast is essential to the health of people in the region and to our nation’s long-term goal of ending the epidemic. – Caressa White, SCEED Office Director