Know Our Status: HIV/AIDS Among Blacks And How To Decrease Numbers

Know Our Status: HIV/AIDS Among Blacks And How To Decrease Numbers

Originally Published Feb. 6, 2015

Tomorrow is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Spreading awareness is especially important in our community, as African Americans are still the highest group affected by the epidemic. In 2021, Black/African American individuals aged 13 and older represented approximately 12% of the U.S. population, but accounted for 40% of people with HIV. . BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with Debra Fraser-Howze, founder of the National Black Leadership Commission On Health and the SVP of government and external Affairs at OraSure Technologies. Fraser-Howze breaks down our status as a community, how we can lower the numbers, and more.

Has the black community’s HIV and AIDS status increased or decreased within the past 10 years, and how many black men and women are affected by the epidemic?

HIV and AIDS affect African Americans more than any other racial/ethnic group in the United States. However, prevention efforts have helped to maintain stability in the annual number of new HIV infections among African Americans. The statistics still show that about 1 in 16 African American men and 1 in 32 African American women will be diagnosed with HIV in his or her lifetime.

What’s the most common misconception about contracting the virus and how do we dispel it?

The most common misconception is that the epidemic is over and that people don’t continue to die from AIDS-related complications. The truth is, for women ages 15 to 49, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death. For young people who are engaging in risky behavior because of the natural lack of vulnerability they feel in their young adult years, they are really putting themselves at risk because HIV is still out there. There are still 50,000 new HIV infections every year, and the majority are found within the African American community.

We need to stay really vigilant. Most people know that you can’t catch HIV through sharing a glass or a toilet seat, but it is deadly, has taken more lives than ebola, and has not gone away.

Does education experience or economic status correlate to HIV and AIDS?

No, not now, and it never has. HIV and AIDS does not discriminate. Anyone can get HIV and AIDS.

How do you recommend people, particularly those who are single and dating, take necessary precautions to prevent HIV/AIDS?

Take this epidemic seriously. Respect yourselves and your lives enough to take the necessary precautions. Certainly condom use is among one of those precautions, but another one is knowing your status. Know your status before you engage in a relationship. Have an open conversation about it with your partner.

How often should people get tested?

The general rule of thumb is that people should be tested annually. They should get tested based on their level of risk. If at high risk for infection, you need to test more often.

What is OraSure doing to aid those infected with the virus, and how it helping in terms of prevention?

OraSure is a medical diagnostic company. We empower people to test for the virus in the easiest, most non-invasive way and get their results in 20 minutes. They can test in the privacy of their own homes with OraQuick In-Home HIV test. It’s the first and only rapid test of its kind that can be used at home.

We know that our products have helped in the war against HIV and AIDS. For those who have HIV, we also now have a test for hepatitis C (HCV), one of the leading causes of death for those with HIV. The co-infection rate is high, so those who test positive for HIV should also make sure to test for HCV. Hepatitis C can now be easily tested for with our rapid OraQuick HCV test.

How can we as a community lower the number of those infected?

The first step in HIV/AIDS detection is to know your status. If we got everybody to test and know their status, we would be in a much better place in the ability to lower our numbers. Those who know their HIV positive status live longer, are healthier, and are much less likely to transmit the virus. They can take precautions to make it less likely to spread. When people know their status and know they are positive, they are more likely to reduce their risky behaviors. Knowing your status is an important first step.

There are also medications that are available to reduce the chance of infection for people who are negative and plan on having sex with someone who is HIV positive.

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