Did you hear? Mecklenburg County’s health director and county manager believe our soaring HIV rate is due to Charlotte being a “party town”?
That’s what Health Director Gibbie Harris told Mecklenburg County Commissioners on October 24. She even went so far as to stigmatize tourists and others who travel to the city, saying they “come in, enjoy themselves for the weekend and then leave but leave stuff behind.” Adding fuel to the fire Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio defended Harris, using blatantly coded language further stigmatizing at-risk communities and offering the astonishingly glib response that Harris’ comments were based not on fully-informed scientific or medical studies, but rather “anecdotal” evidence.
Harris’ and Diorio’s comments are stigmatizing and harmful; they also fuel stereotypes which make HIV prevention and treatment more difficult. And that’s exactly what local and regional HIV prevention professionals and medical experts unanimously told the Charlotte Observer on Monday.
Harris and Diorio should immediately apologize to the thousands of people in Mecklenburg County currently living with HIV and those who are most at-risk of becoming HIV-positive. And after they apologize, they should immediately begin working to see that Mecklenburg County begins to support PrEP, a once-daily pill that can reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission by up to 92 percent.
PrEP, currently unsupported by the county health department among its prevention tools, is a key HIV prevention method being increasingly adopted by local governments across the country, including our next door neighbor Cabarrus County and in Durham, Orange and Wake Counties.
MeckPAC has been working this year to form a new effort, PrEPinMeck. Our effort will launch on Dec. 1, to coincide with World AIDS Day, and aims to remind Mecklenburg County officials of their commitment to stop all new HIV infections in Mecklenburg County by 2020. We’ll focus on public education, lobbying and a push to see county resources extended to support this critically important prevention method.
But our health department director’s and county manager’s recent comments will make our job far more difficult. They have pushed a dangerous, stigmatizing narrative straight out of the 1980s.
This is where you come in. Your donation today — which also reserves your spot at our Dec. 6 end-of-year Victory Celebration — will ensure we can finally provide one of the most effective HIV prevention methods in Mecklenburg County.
Our education, advocacy and lobbying efforts will not come cheap nor easy, especially as we face the hostile narrative fueled by two of the highest-ranking officials in our county. Not only this, we also have to prepare for county commission and local state legislative races in 2018.
When you donate at least $25, you’ll also reserve your spot at our Dec. 6 event. Click here to learn more about and RSVP to the 2017 Victory Celebration.