LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gay men in rural areas of states such as Arkansas and West Virginia avoid getting tested for HIV, a vestige of the days, researchers say, when being gay was treated as a mental illness and interactions with doctors were fraught with stress, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met last month to discuss new findings. One survey in rural West Virginia showed that, despite the explosion of opioid use in the nation and the use of needles in drug abuse, HIV is more commonly spread among men through sexual contact, the Democrat-Gazette reports.
Arkansas health care providers say men in Arkansas who have sex with men postpone HIV testing because they don’t want people to know they’re gay.
“In the southern states, people who are diagnosed with HIV often go to AIDS within a year,” said Dr. Naveen Patil, the medical director for the Arkansas Department of Health’s infectious diseases branch, the Democrat-Gazette article notes.
Cases of HIV and AIDS in Arkansas jumped about 46 percent between 2012-2016 — from 275-402, according to data from the department.
Patil told the Democrat-Gazette that in Arkansas, HIV transmission falls in line with the West Virginia study; it is mostly passed by men who have sex with men.
“HIV is still perceived in most of the conservative churches in Arkansas as a punishment and that the person has made choices and decisions that’s put them in that situation,” said Danny Harris, an outreach coordinator for ARCare, according to the Democrat-Gazette article. “And there’s a fear and a lack of knowledge of how it’s transmitted.”