The Impact of Isolation on HIV

Ilan Cerna-Turoff, Program Coordinator - Youth

I am prone to daydreaming. As I walked around the International AIDS Conference, I couldn’t help but imagine our makeshift, conference community as its own world. If we really were a community, babies would be born, relationships would form, and occasionally, situations of sexual risk would occur. Given the topic we were there to address, our world would have a high concentration of people living with HIV.

For those who do not understand concentrated epidemics, the International AIDS Conference community provides a perfect example of what often happens within geographically isolated communities. It is a closed-off population in a removed environment that many people do not leave. Many conference-goers are already living with HIV. If these individuals didn't know their status, the law of averages if simple: new infections are inevitable.

In many rural communities throughout the Latin American and the Caribbean, HIV spreads through a closed sexual network. It's transmission is facilitated by overlapping relationships that are unavoidable in isolation. Yet, concentrated epidemics cannot be blamed on sexual networks alone. Barriers to information and services also fans the rates of HIV infection.

A new film that premiered at the International AIDS Conference, deepsouth, touches on the societal issues that compound HIV infection in geographically isolated areas in the southern United States. The same barriers that prevent people in rural Mississippi from accessing adequate care can also be found throughout the region. The alarming sexual and reproductive health indicators of remote communities in Guatemala and underserved places like Oaxaca, Mexico demonstrate the tremendous need that exists for better access to information and services. Few films explain the synergy that occurs between stigma, sexual violence, and poverty that contributes to the spread of HIV, but this intersection is illuminated well in deepsouth.

The film depicts poverty as a double killer; it keeps people from leaving the area, and it keeps people from accessing critical health care. As deepsouth progresses, the audience is drawn into personal stories that illustrate how stigma and sexual violence drive infection. The film does justice to the complexity of the concentrated spread of HIV, and also maintains the humanity of those who live with its causes and consequences.

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