Small-town life has its benefits and its drawbacks, one of which is gossip. In the rural, deep South, gossip can discourage people with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as HIV and syphilis, from seeking diagnosis and treatment.
Bronwen Lichtenstein, a medical sociologist at the Institute of Rural Health Research, University of Alabama, notes that residents in the poor rural areas she studies dread going to public health clinics, often their only medical option, to get checked out for STDs. Not only are there “patient spotters,” neighbors who watch clinics to see who comes and goes, but clinic patients and even health workers can have loose lips. “The smaller the place, the more likely it is for gossip to get around,” she said.
Lichtenstein will discuss her findings at 3 p.m. Monday (March 1) as part of the 10th anniversary recognition of IU’s Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention (RCAP), in Room 125, School of Health Physical Education and Recreation, 1025 E. 7th St., Bloomington. An open house at center headquarters, 801 E. 7th St., is planned from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. that day.
Lichtenstein was invited to speak at IU because of her focus on rural, African-American communities in the South, where the spread of STDs, HIV and AIDS has become a serious problem. The South accounts for 36 percent of the country’s population, but 39 percent of the people estimated to be living with AIDS, a disproportionate number of whom are African American, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The region accounts for 46 percent of the estimated number of new AIDS cases.
William Yarber, professor of applied health science at IU and senior director of RCAP, said rural communities have 8 percent of total AIDS cases.
“But rural areas have unique problems, the fact of the stigma, isolation from health care, isolation from support services,” he said, describing a state of denial often seen in rural areas. “Many rural communities believe they are isolated from the epidemic.”
The United States has a higher rate of STDs than any other Western country, Lichtenstein said. Yet, information about STDs is generally lacking.