Memphis among top cities for high HIV rates

Updated: Dec. 19, 2018 at 4:49 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - According to a recent CDC report, Memphis remains in the top 10 cities for the highest HIV rates.

This information comes after a 40-percent decrease in new HIV infections since 2009.

Based on annual numbers from the CDC, the most-affected population of those with new HIV cases in the U.S. are African-American gay men. The numbers are sobering but there is an advanced push for prevention in Tennessee.

Dewayne Murrell is the co-chair of the Shelby County HIV Care and Prevention Group.

“What we want to do in Shelby County is definitely make people aware of prEP, which is the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s an HIV prevention drug that is currently available widely in Tennessee, not just Shelby County. So what this drug does, with the use of a condom and you’re taking it once a day almost like the regimen of a birth control pill, it prevents you from catching HIV,” said Murrell.

The drug is FDA approved and said to be 90-percent effective if taken as prescribed.

Murrell said millions of dollars in grant funding now helps provide access to these kind of resources.

A state-wide effort to spread awareness about prEP is ongoing. is a website funded in part by the Tennessee Department of Health.

According to the site, many insurance programs and Medicaid cover prEP depending on specific plans.

Overall, Murrell said he believes prevention or care for those living with HIV starts with stopping stigma.

"We need to attack this HIV epidemic that we have as a community. We say, yes those are the leading numbers but the second leading numbers are African American women and that says something especially when something impacts the mother. It impacts the family," said Murrell.

The Shelby County Department of Health says the state is making progress against the epidemic, dropping from second in the nation for new AIDS diagnoses in 2014 to 10th two years later. In addition to increased preventive measures, the department is making efforts to help people already living with HIV achieve viral load suppression.

“In 2012 only 33 percent of our infected population was virally suppressed, and we diagnosed 374 new infections that year,” said David Sweat, administrator for the Shelby County Health Department. “By 2017 more than 60 percent of our people living with HIV disease had achieved viral suppression, and we diagnosed 224 new infections last year. As we keep increasing the percentage of people whose infection and viral loads are fully controlled, the numbers of new infections will continue to drop.”

OUTMemphis released a statement following the release of the CDC’s report, saying for a decade now the group has used community resources to connect the at-risk community to testing, treatment and prevention options. The statement reads in part:

We recognize that the reasons people are still contracting HIV at such high rates in Memphis are complex. They include political problems, like statewide laws around HIV that are decades old and desperately need to be modernized. Alongside these are institutional issues, such as a lack of comprehensive sexuality education in public schools. Then there are the social issues that affect our community, including the discrimination African American gay, bisexual, and same-gender loving men and African American transgender women face in employment, housing, education, and healthcare.

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