Miami Named America's Number Two HIV Hotspot

The nation's HIV and AIDS infection rates have steadily dropped over the past handful of years. With medication, HIV-positive individuals can now lead long, healthy lives. And through diligent self-care (or use of the preventative drug PrEP), some infected individuals even safely date HIV-negative people.

But nobody, apparently, has told Florida. Not only does the Sunshine State lead the nation in AIDS-related deaths, but also Miami this week was named the nation's number two HIV "hotspot," a rank the city has enjoyed for more than half a decade.

The news is a grim reminder that both Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Health continue to ignore the state's HIV problem. HIV caseworkers have said repeatedly that Scott and the DOH refuse to take the Florida's HIV issues seriously.

Using U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the HIV-awareness website today mapped out each state's HIV prevalence, and the South, on the whole, is doing an abysmal job of protecting people from the virus. Nine of the ten most HIV-plagued cities in America sit in the South.

Though Baton Rouge, Louisiana, topped the list, with 44.7 new diagnoses for every 100,000 people, Miami came in close behind, with 42.8 infections for every 100,000 residents. (No other city reached the 40-infection mark.)
The ranking likely won't surprise anyone working in Miami's public health sector: Flouting national trends, infection rates in Florida have increased every year since 2012, and Miami-Dade and Broward Counties led the nation in new HIV infections in 2014.

Despite this, HIV-treatment advocates have said repeatedly that Scott and the DOH are underplaying the state's AIDS issues. Scott has trimmed the Health Department's workforce by more than 2,000 people, and critics say former Surgeon General John Armstrong told the DOH to spent more time crafting PR campaigns than treating people at clinics.

The state's skyrocketing heroin crisis also hasn't helped Florida's HIV numbers: Despite a clear opiate-related emergency, Dr. Hansel Tookes, a Miami clinician, was subjected to an unacceptable four years of pushback and resentment for trying to create the state's first needle exchange, where addicts could trade dirty, HIV-prone needles for clean ones.

Despite the fact that exchanges are known to cut the HIV rate and that 194 similar programs exist around the country, Florida's cohort of grumpy, not-in-my-backyard rich residents fought the program for years. The state Legislature finally gave in and passed a needle-exchange law this year.

Even still, Florida's trends mirror those across the American South. GetTested blames much of the region's problem on abstinence-only education, which teaches kids to avoid sex altogether (hint: they don't) instead of how to copulate safely.

"In spite of high rates of infection, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas continue to stress abstinence-only education in schools, leading to a lack of information about proper safe sex practices," GetTested says.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.