Couple living with HIV in Greenwood, Mississippi. In Mississippi, African-Americans are 37 percent of the population but 76 percent of new HIV cases.

© 2011 Lisa Biagiotti

In a move that will benefit those living with HIV and AIDS in Mississippi, the US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has decided to overhaul the state’s federally funded program meant to provide housing to people with AIDS. This comes roughly four years after Human Rights Watch released a report that criticized Mississippi’s limited, incomplete, and disorganized operation of a program that serves as a lifeline for thousands of Mississippians living with HIV.

Following the report’s release, Human Rights Watch urged the federal government to audit and review the effectiveness of the current program, and the US Housing and Urban Development undertook an extensive review in 2012. The US Housing and Urban Development discovered a number of program violations and decided to temporarily suspend the Mississippi Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS while it issued guidelines for a comprehensive reorganization of the program. Under these new guidelines, the program will be run not by the state department of health but by the AIDS Services Coalition of Hattiesburg, a nongovernmental organization with expertise in providing housing to people living with HIV.

In its new role, the AIDS Services Coalition is completely revamping the program. The organization hopes to expand the program to serve more people, particularly in rural areas that were previously neglected. It also aims to strengthen the state database on HIV needs in Mississippi and to gather data on the severity of all applicants’ HIV infection in order to increase and inform future state and federal funding. As some Mississippi residents are ineligible for the program, the AIDS Services Coalition says it plans to collaborate with other state housing programs to ensure that no one is left behind.

This is a huge positive step. The federal government as well as the state of Mississippi should now consider the report’s other recommendations, in order to ensure that all Mississippians living with HIV have access to lifesaving measures and treatments.