Is Aids Awareness A Paradox?

Makgatho Mandela, 54, died of AIDS on Jan. 6, 2005. Just six months earlier his father, former South African President Nelson Mandela, addressed the International AIDS Conference. Mandela, an advocate of global HIV/AIDS awareness, asked people to look at AIDS as a “normal” disease to help reduce the stigma attached to it. In the same address, he asked governments, businesses, and individuals to fulfill their commitments to The Global AIDS Fund.

Here and abroad, HIV/AIDS is ravaging black communities. Blacks are almost 13% of the U.S. population but represent over 50% of all new HIV infections, according to the Black AIDS Institute. What’s even more alarming is that black women represent 72% of new HIV infections among women. Young adults (ages 13–19), the ones who have the greatest opportunity to learn about and fend off HIV, represent 65% of reported AIDS cases among youth in 2002, even though they are only 15% of the U.S. population.

“Looking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information, there are an estimated 40,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. every year, and that hasn’t really changed much. But who makes it up does,” says Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “African Americans constitute a bigger share.”

HIV/AIDS advocates are creating programs to target African Americans, as the disease continues to affect them at disproportionate rates. The Rap It Up and KNOW HIV/AIDS campaigns are products of partnerships between the Kaiser Family Foundation, BET, and Viacom.

These facts beg the question: Are these AIDS awareness initiatives ineffective? Jasmyne Cannick, of the Black AIDS Institute, believes existing education programs and campaigns are effective but says more are needed.

“But not just in big cities like Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and New York; we need more [programs] nationally,” she says. “It is imperative that these programs get funding and the funding goes to supporting programs targeting African Americans.”