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While African-American people make up 37% of Mississippi's population, they account for more than 75% of the new HIV cases reported, the United Health Foundation says. The state health department says that figure is 69%. According to Paul Byers, a deputy state epidemiologist, 420 African-Americans were diagnosed with HIV in 2004, compared with 66 other minorities and 121 whites. "The majority of the people in the delta that are affected by HIV are African-American," said Alonzo Dukes, president and CEO of the Greenville, Miss.-based nonprofit Southern AIDS Commission.
"African-Americans suffer from most diseases in a higher amount because of socioeconomic status--more poor people have diseases than other people--[and a] lack of education and information," said Marilyn Moering, executive director of Building Bridges. "I know that it's 2005, but lots of people we see still don't know the basic facts of HIV, how it's transmitted."
The spread of HIV among African-Americans also can be attributed to the lack of power that women feel in sexual relationships, said Debbie Konkle-Parker, an assistant professor with the Mississippi Chapter of Nurses in AIDS Care. Of the approximately 19 new HIV cases Konkle-Parker sees at her Jackson, Miss., clinic each week, about 85% are African-American.
Cheryl Hamill, who works for the Delta Region AIDS Education and Training Center in Jackson, said stigma surrounding HIV prevents people from getting tested despite plenty of statewide resources for testing and treatment. "There are a lot of people who are HIV-positive in Mississippi [who don't know it], and we need to reach out and have them tested," said Hamill. "For people that do know that they are positive and aren't accessing health care, we need to find out what those barriers are." (AP)