Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a vital reminder to prioritize the South in the work to end HIV

Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day offers an important reminder for us that the work to end the HIV epidemic must involve cultivating the leadership of communities in the South with the resources they need to stop HIV together.

The South is the epicenter of the national HIV epidemic, and Black communities in the South are disproportionately impacted by HIV. Southerners are more likely to contract HIV and they are dying at higher rates of AIDS as well. Structural barriers such as poverty, inadequate education, HIV stigma, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and unequal access to insurance and specialized HIV care, pose significant obstacles to accessing treatment and support.

Responding to HIV and other public health crises must involve building the capacity of leaders in these communities. Marginalized populations, including people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and those living in rural areas, are often the most affected, making it clear that a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t suffice.

And that’s where the Southern HIV Impact Fund comes in. 

The Southern Fund focuses on the needs of individuals and communities impacted by HIV in three primary areas: prevention; care and support; and policy, advocacy and movement building. To maximize efforts and impact, this initiative explicitly focuses on increasing cross-sectional work among traditionally HIV-focused organizations and those with little or no prior HIV experience, but with a history of working to advance social justice or civil rights. Organizations working in the intersecting fields of racial and social justice, gender equality and reproductive rights, LGBTQ, immigration, detention and mass incarceration, among others are well-positioned to positively impact the social determinants of health that have significant implications for people living with or at risk for HIV in the South.

The Southern Fund’s newest initiative, iFORWARD, recognizes the barriers that Southern organizations face in accessing appropriate technology to carry out their services and achieve their mission. This initiative aims to reduce these disparities by directing funds to and building the capacity of grassroots organizations in the South to:

  • Improve community access to health information.
  • Enhance organizational communication systems.
  • Help to maintain a sense of client social and emotional support.
  • Establish and maintain a virtual community.
  • Extend organizations’ geographical reach.
  • Reduce HIV-related stigma.

The work to end the HIV epidemic takes more than just providing financial aid or medical services to organizations and providers. It involves equipping communities with culturally responsive tools they need to take control of their health and well-being. This work requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach that acknowledges the specific needs of Southern communities. It’s about fostering lasting change that supports health, well-being, and self-determination. 

As we mark Southern HIV Awareness Day, let us recommit ourselves to working collaboratively to empower Southern communities, ensuring that they have the tools and support necessary to play an active role in ending the HIV epidemic once and for all.