Multi-million dollar initiative is aimed at addressing HIV/AIDS - - The News for South Mississippi

Multi-million dollar initiative is aimed at addressing HIV/AIDS in the South

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

A multi-million dollar initiative is focusing its efforts on the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the South.

HIV still carries a serious stigma in the South. The COMPASS initiative hopes to break down some of the built-in barriers that keep the South at the top of lists for HIV and AIDS rates.

This bio-pharmaceutical company, Gilead, has pledged $100 million dollars over the next 10 years that will all go to HIV/AIDS work in the South

"We believe that they don't need Gilead or anyone else to do the work for them," explained Douglas Brooks, Senior Director of Community Engagement, Gilead Sciences, and former director of the Office of National AIDS Policy under the Obama administration. "What they need are the resources to be able to do the work and to expand the work in order to make a difference."

Kathy Garner, Executive Director of the AIDS Services Coalition in Hattiesburg, admits that her staff cried when they first learned of the initiative.

"We started dreaming," Garner said. "Because funding is so restricted that we've not thought about the possibilities."

Garner is excited about the potential to educate and care for even more Mississippians.

"Every time these meetings come up, I make sure that the rural areas of Mississippi are not forgotten," added Garner. "Because more than 60 percent of the infections in Mississippi are outside of Jackson. So, it's critical if we're going to truly end the epidemic, which is our goal, we've got to address everybody."

While the way the money is divvied up to community organizations will have a longer proposal to go through, this initiative is providing something workers on the ground say is often tough to see in the midst of their work.

"Just to be able to have a resource that could take us past those stats to get us out of that rut, it's hopeful," added Deja Abdul-Haqq with My Brother's Keeper.

Some Mississippi organizations say they're also looking forward to more collaboration with other groups. They're hoping that will result in even better outcomes.

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