Communities from South Africa to South Central Los Angeles and from Birmingham to Beijing will stop today and have a moment of silence for World AIDS Day. Observed on the first day of December since 1988, World AIDS Day was established by the World Health Organization to provide governments, organizations, and individuals an opportunity to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic.
Globally, there were 2.7 million new HIV infections and 2 million HIV-related deaths in 2007, according to the 2008 report Status of the Global HIV Epidemic commissioned by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. In the U.S., African Americans make up a disproportionately high percentage (45%) of those infections and deaths.
Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently focused on addressing racial and ethnic disparities in sexual health.
Fenton spoke with BlackEnterprise.com to address the serious toll that AIDS/HIV is taking on the African American community and advise the best course of action to reduce that impact.
BlackEnterprise.com: African Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population but 45% of new HIV infections. How do you explain the high incidence of new HIV infections among African Americans?
Dr. Kevin Fenton: African Americans bear a greater burden of HIV than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, with rates of HIV infection that are more than seven times as high as that of whites and almost three times as high as Hispanics. Within the African American community, black gay and bisexual men, and black women are most heavily affected.
While race itself is not a risk factor, there are a number of reasons why HIV takes such a heavy toll on African Americans. Perhaps most important is the large number of blacks who are already living with HIV. This high prevalence of HIV means that there is a greater risk of infection with every sexual encounter.
It’s important to note that African Americans do not take greater sexual risks than people of other races. A range of other issues are at play, including poverty, limited access to healthcare, drug use, and higher rates of other sexually transmitted diseases (which can significantly increase a person’s chances of acquiring HIV). Stigma and homophobia also play an important role by too often preventing people at risk from getting tested for HIV or accessing other important HIV prevention services.
New infections among African Americans have remained roughly stable for more than a decade – even though an increasing number of people are living with HIV, and can potentially transmit the disease. In addition, new infections have declined dramatically in several transmission categories where African Americans are disproportionately represented: babies born to HIV-infected mothers, injection drug users, and heterosexuals.
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