Mayor declares Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in Hattiesburg

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It took just seconds Monday for Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree to get tested for HIV, and with the fairly recent new rapid test, it took just a few minutes more for him to get the results.

Although the mayor is not one of them, there are 10,000 people living with HIV or AIDS in Mississippi, and a disproportionate number of those people are African Americans.

"When your numbers are out of 10,000 in the state, 7,000 or 70 percent are African American, I think that warrants somebody waving a flag and saying – we've got to do something," said Dupree.

And Dupree is doing just that – proclaiming Tuesday, February 7, National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in Hattiesburg, in a Pine Belt county that is coping with the effects of the disease more than many residents may realize.

Of 82 counties, Forrest County has the fifth highest rate of new infections.

"I would bet you in a room with 10 people," said AIDS Services Coalition Board President Jim Dukes, "at least one is either going to have a family member, a friend, a friend of a child…or a coworker, someone that they know that's affected, that's how rampant it still is."

Those not coping with it likely do not know how close to home it may be hitting.

"I was not aware that in this county we're number five," said Dupree.

Those who are close to it, often do not talk about it.

"We do all kind of cancer screening: Breast cancer, mammogram, pap smear, colonoscopy, prostate, I mean we do all these kinds of testing," Dupree said. "Well this is the same thing; this is no different.

Dupree said it should not embarrassing, and is nothing to be ashamed of or scared of; it is simply another test that needs to be on that list with those others.

It is perhaps one of the only diseases on the planet where experts say stigma - its association with homosexuality and sexual activity - may be the biggest obstacle.

He has been tested with a swab before, but Assistant to the Mayor John Brown got the rapid test Monday as well.

"It's one of those things that we need to do, it's being a high risk population for this, my child needs to know. I have a 16 year old, I have a 21-year-old and they need to know it's part of the process to staying healthy."

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