GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Health advocates say they're seeing more people diagnosed as HIV positive having to forgo treatment because they can't afford a ride to the doctor. On Wednesday, some South Mississippi community members gathered in Gulfport to talk about how to stop the spread of HIV and about the plight of those in our community already living with the virus.
AIDS and HIV advocates said within the six southernmost counties, the Coastal Family Health Center in Biloxi is the only place uninsured HIV patients can go to receive treatment. For patients who live farther away, the South Mississippi Aids Task Force tries to help with transportation, but the organization doesn't always have money to do that.
"It creates frustration on the part of us as an organization, because we want to make sure that everybody who is identified as HIV positive gets the care that they need," said Theresa Youngblood, South Mississippi AIDS Task Force Director. "But also, frustration on the part of that individual because the statistics indicate they're less likely to get treatment as is. Then you have all the obstacles of being able to get there, and very few people are getting the service that they're needing."
According to health officials, for every 100 Americans diagnosed as HIV positive, there are 41 who stick with the treatment. For those working toward the goal of reducing the spread of HIV down to zero, that's troubling news.
"We've got people who are HIV positive who want care who can't get to where care is being provided, because they don't have the transportation. So, if we can put some of those healthcare providers back in those hard hit areas, I think we can get this down to zero which is what we're trying to do, " Event Organizer Monica Benjamin said.
The South Mississippi Aids Task Force said the treatment for HIV is intense, so people also dealing with obstacles like poverty and homelessness often give up on getting well.
"They sometimes decide they're going to just take their chances with whatever they have and live their time however they have it," said Youngblood. "It creates a situation that they're not going to seek treatment."
The luncheon to discuss issues surrounding HIV is part of several events leading up to World AIDS Day, which is on Dec. 1.
The South Mississippi AIDS Task Force is hosting a benefit walk called Bridge For Life on Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Biloxi Bay Bridge. For more information call 228-385-1214.