For roughly another week, individuals in Mississippi will be able to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections at no cost. However, as of July 1st, the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), due to budget cuts, will begin charging $25
at all of its clinics for individuals to have the tests and lab work done. Individuals age 18 and younger or who have been identified as a sexual contact of an infected individual will be exempt from paying.
As Mississippi has one of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the nation, this new fee structure does not bode well for the state’s—and indeed the entire region’s—substantial at-risk population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that since the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the epicenter of the disease has shifted from major coastal cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, to southern locales, which include not just cities, but suburban and rural areas. In fact, 44% of all people living with HIV reside in the South
, and many of them are unaware that they harbor the virus.
The epidemic in Mississippi, as in much of the South, is fueled by factors such as poverty, lower levels of education, and inadequate access to healthcare. Some in the community now worry that these factors, combined with the disappearance of free testing, will halt any progress that’s been made toward increasing levels of remission and complete eradication of the disease.
“We’re very concerned about it,” Rob Hall, state director of The Human Rights Campaign in Mississippi, a civil rights organization focused on achieving equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, told Contagion®
. “It’s creating a monetary barrier. Healthcare providers should always make HIV testing more accessible, not less. People need to be tested and tested quickly, and they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to do that.”
For those who can’t afford $25 to be tested, the MSDH says there are a handful of community groups funded by the state, and possibly the CDC, that will offer free testing. Clinics will work with individuals’ incomes and possibly ask them to pay on a sliding scale. Individuals also can utilize the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, a government program that provides primary medical care and support services for uninsured or underinsured individuals living with HIV. Right now, the program offers care and treatment to more than 500,000 individuals a year, or slightly more than half of those who’ve been diagnosed in the United States.