Special Report: Aids in Alabama

By Valorie Lawson - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The South is known for it's southern charm and hospitality.  But, now you can add another  notable to the list,  the area best known for the highest cases of HIV.

While we all remember birthdays and anniversaries, the date that sticks out in Michelle Lampkin's mind is the day she was diagnosed with HIV.  "For the first two years I did nothing but sit in my house cry and waited to die."

It was the 70's and little was known about AIDS except it happened to someone else.   "It only happened in the gay white communities back then,  it couldn't happen to the good catholic girl it wasn't going to happen to me."  But it did happen to Lampkin.   After being diagnosed 25 years ago Lampkin moved from New York to Alabama to deal with the disease.  Today, she mentors young people in Dothan about HIV and AIDS.  According to the latest numbers from the CDC the most new cases of HIV diagnosed in the United States run straight through the south.

Dr. Wick Many oversees a program that tests people for HIV and AIDS and over the past 10 years he's seen the numbers skyrocket.   "A lot of it has to do with all the other issues that plague Southern States" said Many.  He mentions poverty, a lack of education and that AIDS and HIV are still considered three letter words no one wants to discuss.  Dr. Many says  physician are often uncomfortable talking about sexual histories asking permission and they don't feel motivated to do so.  He also says  the patients to a certain degree have some shame or prejudiced.  "It's still rampant in Alabama."

Speaking of Alabama,  there are more people living with HIV and AIDS..in Montgomery County than any other county in the state and Dr. Many says no one can explain why Montgomery County has such a density of HIV infections.

Health care professionals tell us if we don't wise up about HIV and AIDS it will cost us all whether we're infected or not.   Most of the people living with AIDS and HIV pay for treatment with Medicaid and Medicaid programs are buckling under to take care of people with long term illnesses like HIV and AIDS

It seems the South isn't getting it's fare share of Federal funding to care for HIV and AIDS patients.   The Southern AIDS Coalition reports The Federal government spends about 65 hundred dollars a year per patients in the South. That's compared to close to 7 thousand dollars per patient in the North.