Mississippi is experiencing some of the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses in the country. A startling amount of new cases are being reported from the Mississippi Delta with an average infection rate of 17.8 per 100,000 persons compared to the national average of 11.2. Further compounding this health crisis, people living with HIV/AIDS in the Mississippi Delta face intense stigma and unlawful discrimination in employment and housing opportunities. In response to this crisis, Mississippi Center for Justice has opened an office in the Mississippi Delta, giving us a sustained presence to help address the healthcare and civil rights crisis in the region. The Mississippi Delta has a rich and unique cultural history. However, the region sits against a backdrop of the worst poverty, and subsequently, the worst health statistics in the country. African-Americans bear a disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS in this state. African-Americans make up only 38 percent of the state’s population, yet they represent 78 percent of Mississippians who have contracted HIV.
More than 35 percent of people in the Delta live below the poverty line and less than three-fourths of the population has a high school diploma. These disparities act as barriers to accessing critical services, including healthcare and life-saving medication. A person whose HIV-positive status is disclosed faces unlawful loss of employment, housing and medical confidentiality.
Mississippi Center for Justice is actively forging partnerships with local medical offices and has created Mississippi’s first medical-legal partnership to ensure people living with HIV/AIDS do not face discrimination, and currently provides free legal assistance to Mississippians who face HIV-related discrimination. As a part of this outreach, the Center has prepared know your rights brochures that will allow people living with HIV/AIDS in Mississippi to speak out for themselves and know that laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act are on their side. The brochures deal specifically with housing, employment, and privacy. The Center was also part of the Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative, a broad-based coalition of HIV/AIDS Advocates and their supporters lead by the Duke AIDS Legal Project.