World AIDS Day: Where Do Blacks Stand?

CDC director urges community participation in prevention

facilitate AIDS prevention education?

The African American community is mobilized and more focused on addressing the black HIV/AIDS crisis than ever before. Black business leaders, as well as leaders from every other segment of the African American community (ie., faith, civil rights, entertainment), have joined forces with CDC through a national effort we call the “Heightened National Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis among African Americans.”

One of the most important ways the business community can support the nation’s HIV prevention efforts is by partnering with local health departments to promote HIV education, awareness, and testing. For example, about 75 merchants in Detroit and roughly 60 Chicago merchants are participating in a business-led initiative to provide African Americans in their cities with HIV testing and other prevention information. By simply distributing HIV awareness messages on items such as shopping bags and beverage sleeves – and initiating conversations with their customers – these business owners are making important strides in reducing the stigma of HIV.

We strongly encourage all business leaders to get involved. Even the simplest activities can have a significant impact.

How have AIDS prevention tactics such as education, awareness, and testing changed in the last 10 years, given changes in technology?

I would say that HIV testing is the area of prevention that has undergone the most significant changes in the last decade – both in our approach to HIV testing and in the technology itself.

One of the biggest changes took place two years ago, when CDC revised its HIV testing recommendations. At that time, we began recommending that all Americans ages 13 to 64 get tested for HIV in healthcare settings – regardless of their perceived risk. Prior to that time, CDC recommended routine testing only for populations known to be at high risk, such as injection drug users and gay or bisexual men. The main purpose of the revised recommendations is to have HIV testing become a regular part of medical care – just like cholesterol screening is today – in order to identify the 1 in 5 people currently estimated to be living with HIV who do not know they are infected (about 233,000 people), so they can be connected to treatment and prevent transmitting the infection to others.

HIV testing itself has also undergone significant changes, particularly with the introduction of HIV rapid testing in 2002. Rapid testing produces results in about 20 minutes – a vast improvement over the two-week waiting period that was typical when a traditional blood test had to be used to screen for HIV. There are now two types of rapid tests: a simple finger-prick test that uses a single drop of blood; and a saliva test, which uses a toothbrush-like device to collect oral fluid.

Better technology has also made it possible for us to track the HIV epidemic with much more precision than ever before.

Is the AIDS outlook for African Americans worse than many countries in Africa? Has the U.S. done enough financially to prevent AIDS in America?

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