Human Rights Watch Slams Florida, Southern States in New Report on HIV

In a report on HIV released this morning, Human Rights Watch criticizes Florida and other southern states for neglecting the epidemic and, in some cases, fueling the deadly disease.

The report, "Southern Exposure: Human Rights and HIV in the Southern United States," lambasts the Sunshine State and the rest of the South for "laws and policies that... undermine public health and progress on combating HIV in the region where the epidemic is growing at the fastest rate in the nation."

One particularly horrifying fact: Florida has the second highest HIV diagnosis rate for Latinos in the entire country.

All in all, the report is pretty damn critical of Florida. Apparently, our state is stingy on HIV funding AND backwards in sex education. Not a good combination.

Perhaps HRW's biggest gripe with Florida is the horrendously long waiting list for poor people in need of anti-retroviral drugs.

Florida currently has at least 2,043 people on a statewide waiting list for enrollment in the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program (ADAP). That's a mind-boggling 53 percent of all those wait-listed around the entire country.

Those on the list either wait months for medication -- all the while slowly dying -- or plead with drug companies and local clinics for free drugs. The report points out that more than 60 percent of those on the ADAP wait-list are black: a sign of the disproportionate effect HIV still has on minorities in the U.S.

Yet HIV programs such as ADAP are dangerously underfunded in Florida, the report argues. Despite being home to more than half of all wait-listed HIV patients, Florida only pays for nine percent of its ADAP program: the rest is nationally funded. Good thing ol' Marco Rubio has gone to Washington to knock down "big" government a peg or two.

Other notes on Florida from the report:
* We may not have any football teams in the top twenty by the end of the season, but we did rank highly for teen pregnancies. WE DID IT!

* Although our state requires sex education (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisianna, and Mississippi do not), Florida doesn't require that contraception be addressed at all. Hence the teen pregnancy and high HIV rate.

* On a good note, Florida is only one of four southern states to have a syringe exchange program to help prevent HIV transmission among drug addicts. Unsurprisingly, however, we manage to screw even that up. According to the report:

In Florida, public health officials support syringe exchange but consider Florida law to be a barrier to implementation. They have asked the state legislature to pass a specific exemption for public health purposes.
Don't worry, gentle reader. I'm sure healthcare tycoon turned governor Rick Scott will be all over that issue....

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.