Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Southern states account for one-third of the U.S. population but more than 40 percent of all AIDS cases, and rates there continue to grow and outpace national rates.
"As we continue to focus on this issue globally, let's not forget that right in our backyard, in the United States, in the South, we still don't seem to have the kind of handle on this disease that would seem appropriate at this time," Landrieu said.
Panelists discussed contributing factors, including poverty. Gene Copello of the AIDS Institute said almost 14 percent of Southern residents live in poverty -- with poor healthcare, high rates of other sexually transmitted diseases and many people uninsured.
Panelists discussed solutions, such as more targeted federal funding and culturally sensitive prevention programs.
"No region in the United States will be safe from AIDS until the whole country is safe from AIDS," Copello said.