Mississippi has one of the nation’s highest rates of HIV infection and deaths from AIDS. In
March 2011, Human Rights Watch published Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in
Mississippi, which found the state’s response to HIV conflicted with human rights and
sound public health policy.
The report, released at the first annual conference of people living with HIV in Mississippi,
focused on how harsh socio-economic conditions in the state placed people at high risk of
acquiring HIV. It also showed how Mississippi’s harmful laws and policies undermined the
lives of people with HIV, and how its efforts to address its HIV epidemic—including failure
to invest in HIV prevention, care, and services, and a lack of accurate and complete sex
education—were inadequate and sometimes misguided.
Since then, Mississippi has made progress in meeting the challenges of HIV, aided by civil
society engagement and an HIV community that, together with its allies, continues to grow
in size and political strength. State government has also since undergone important
changes. Under the leadership of a new director of the STD/HIV Office, the Mississippi
State Department of Health (MSDH) for the first time in its history sought and obtained
significant state and federal funding to strengthen health services, housing, and other
services critical to protect the lives and health of people living with HIV. MSDH is reaching
out to more people with HIV, consulting the community on its policies, and taking steps to
protect confidentiality and human rights in its interactions with people living with HIV.
However, much remains to be done. Mississippi must focus on housing and re-entry from
prison for people with HIV, and embrace evidence-based sex education in its public
schools. Most urgently, however, it must expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act
(ACA)—a move that will significantly increase the number of people living with HIV who can
access medical care, and will enable many more Mississippians to be tested for HIV and
linked more directly to treatment. Moreover, expanding the health care sector will add jobs
and bring new tax revenue to the state. The Mississippi legislature should approve
Medicaid expansion in 2013; it is an opportunity the state cannot afford to waste.