Recap: Ending the HIV Epidemic in the South

Content From: HIV.govPublished: September 06, 20233 min read


More than 150 advocates, community leaders, and funded partners gathered at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN, August 18-20, 2023, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Gilead COMPASS initiative®Exit Disclaimer. The event highlighted the importance of ending the HIV epidemic in the South, which accounts for more than half of all new HIV diagnoses in the U.S.

COMPASS (Commitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV/AIDS in Southern States) supports organizations working to address the HIV epidemic in the South. The initiative invests resources to reduce HIV-related health disparities, build awareness, advance education, and reduce stigma.

CAPT John Oguntomilade delivers a keynote address at the COMPASS 5th anniversary event.

CAPT John Oguntomilade, BDS, MPH, PhD, Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative Coordination Lead for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), was a luncheon keynote speaker. He updated participants on the federal HIV response and how everyone can work together to end the epidemic through the four key EHE strategies: diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and response. During the event, the work of the community was highlighted.

Meharry Medical College released a special edition of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and UnderservedExit Disclaimer that highlights the work of COMPASS partners. Event participants shared successes and discussed the impact the initiative has made across the South, including expanding testing and retaining patients in care.

Four Coordinating Centers–Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, the Southern AIDS Coalition, and Wake Forest School of Divinity–implement HIV-related COMPASS programming and provide funding to local organizations that are committed to addressing the epidemic in the South. The COMPASS anniversary event coincided with Southern HIV Awareness Day, which is organized by the Southern AIDS Coalition and held each year on August 20.

Community organization leaders and CAPT Oguntomilade (center) gathered at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN.

CAPT Oguntomilade reinforced the importance of faith leaders in the South and said it is important to continue working with non-traditional partnerships and meet people where they are, for example, through expansion and support of community partners and faith-based health initiatives that serve vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by HIV. He also discussed the syndemic approach and the importance of addressing social determinants of health, adding that some Southern states have common systemic, provider-level, and community-level factors.

Event attendees speak with CAPT Oguntomilade.

During the event, Oguntomilade also spoke with small groups to learn more about their efforts to end the HIV epidemic. He said overcoming health disparities is one important area of focus. For example, African Americans account for 40% of new infections but make up only 14% of the population.

To learn more, the Southern AIDS Coalition offers a series of leadership development and education trainingExit Disclaimer by and for Southerners living with HIV. To help stop HIV stigma, CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together Social Media Toolkit contains ready-to-go messages for posting on Facebook, Instagram, or X (formerly Twitter).