Southern Discomfort

Fighting an HIV/AIDS epidemic that’s raging across the southern United States

| May-June 2011

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    REUTERS / Lee Celano
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    Stephen Voss /

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When Juanita Davis, director of HIV prevention and education for the state of Mississippi, visits church or school groups to teach about the virus, she arrives armed with Mounds bars, 5th Avenue bars, and lots of Sugar Babies.

She brings the sweets not to bribe her audiences to pay attention, but rather to help illustrate, with physical analogies, the things she is not allowed to say in the places she visits. Imagine trying to teach HIV prevention without being able to say “penis,” “condom,” or “semen.”

That’s where the candy bars come in.

The fact that Davis must use candy as euphemisms for body parts, contraceptives, and bodily fluids says much about the environment in which she—and others—are trying to fight the next big wave of HIV/AIDS in America.

Like her peers battling the virus in a region cinched tight by the Bible Belt, Davis has to use ingenuity. By the time anyone changes the system, or age-old beliefs, too many more will get sick, and even die. That’s why Davis is willing to try to break down barriers—one chocolate bar at a time.

“If we can give just a little information—once we talk about the statistics, for instance—people are more open [to the idea of learning how to avoid HIV],” Davis says. “If we can [talk through] that crack, they’ll open the door.”

6/9/2015 6:48:09 PM

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steve eatenson
6/1/2011 8:53:35 AM

Every time I see someone driving an expensive vehicle, one that costs $30 to $150,000 or more, I think about how many people with health issues that money could have helped, how many children the money could have fed, how many homeless people it could have housed. We live in a country where top executives and earners make millions of dollars a year when so many can't afford the basics, including adequate healthcare. It's shameful....the greed, the lack of conscience, the rationalizations.

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