While the rate of HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans has remained roughly stable for more than a decade, blacks still make up more than half of all new diagnoses and account for 49% of people living with HIV/AIDS – and just 12% of the population of the U.S.
That rate would have been higher if not for the creation of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), says LaMont Evans, CEO of Healthy Black Communities Inc. When five organizations came together to start NBHAAD in 1999, the goal was to educate people about behavior that increases the risk for HIV infection, encourage testing for the disease, and to persuade those who test positive to seek treatment.
Despite the stable rate of new infections, “It is not a comfortable thing to have a stable epidemic,” says Evans. Since the program began, “200,000 black people have contracted HIV, which is totally unacceptable because HIV is 100% preventable,” Evans says.
The theme of this year’s NBHAAD focuses on encouraging African American communities to actively think about the impact of HIV/AIDS and prevention efforts. NBHAAD has been instrumental in mobilizing churches, fraternities and sororities, and community organizations to help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black community. For the 10-year anniversary on Feb.7, more than 600 institutions will hold marches, health fairs, and town hall meetings, and offer free HIV/AIDS testing.
One possible reason for those 200,000 infections is complacency, which leads to risky behavior. With more effective drugs on the market to treat the disease, people are living longer and no longer seeing AIDS as a death sentence, says Dr. Theresa Mack, who primarily treats patients with HIV/AIDS in New York.
In 2007, the rates of AIDS diagnoses decreased among blacks but were still higher than the rates of any other race/ethnicity, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black adults/adolescents were 10 times the rate for whites and nearly three times the rate for Hispanics. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black women was 22 times the rate for white women. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black men was almost wight times the rate for white men.
CDC data also shows that African Americans between the ages of 13 and 29 account for half of all new infections among those in that age group.
Before there can be a decrease in new infections of AIDS/HIV rates among blacks, society needs to tackle certain social conditions, which include poverty, poor access to health services, and poor educational attainment, says Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the CDC.
“We will need to have a mobilization around the community in a way that really meets the sense of crisis that we are facing today,” says Fenton. “We need to continue to focus on delivering the most effective prevention and intervention to those in greatest need.”
How you can help:
Learn About HIV/AIDS. Educate yourself, friends, and family about HIV/AIDS and what you can do to protect yourself.
Get tested for HIV. To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO, visit hivtest.org , or, on your cell phone, text your zip code to Know IT (566948).
Speak Out against stigma, homophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.
Donate time and money to HIV/AIDS organizations that work within African American communities.
CDC HIV/AIDS: African Americans — Information on HIV/AIDS and African Americans
HIVtest.org — Find an HIV test site near you from the National HIV Testing Database, available 24 hours a day.
CDC Basic HIV Information — Learn about HIV/AIDS, how it is and is not transmitted, the risk factors for HIV transmission, preventing transmission and the symptoms of HIV infection.