A Black Plague

Despite a 5% average annual decline in the rate of HIV diagnoses among African Americans from 2001 to 2004, the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic among this group remains severe, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC reports show that in 2004, African Americans accounted for 20,965 estimated AIDS cases, constituting 49% of diagnosed cases among U.S. adults. That year, the rate of new HIV diagnoses among African Americans was more than eight times higher than the rate among whites. From 2001 to 2004, blacks accounted for more than half of all new HIV diagnoses (51%), even though they were only about 13% of the population.

The numbers come from a subset of 33 states with longstanding, name-based HIV reporting, says Jennifer Ruth, spokeswoman for the CDC’s National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention. “These more detailed analyses show that despite possible signs of success, HIV continues to exact a devastating toll on African Americans in the U.S.,” she says.

Blacks have accounted for more than 379,000, or 40%, of the estimated AIDS cases diagnosed nationwide since the beginning of the epidemic. Through December 2004, more than 201,000 blacks were estimated to have died with AIDS. Blacks have accounted for 38% of estimated deaths among persons with AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic.

No matter how you look at it, AIDS in America is a black disease, says Phill Wilson, founder and executive director of the Black AIDS Institute.

“Black people bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic in America,” Wilson says. “In the beginning, we were sleeping and not paying attention. Black America has not taken ownership of the disease.

“We must face the reality of the AIDS epidemic in America in 2006,” he continues. “Now is the time to take action. AIDS is our problem; we must accept that.”