for 64% of the 126,964 women living with HIV/AIDS in this country, compared with 19% for white women and 15% for Hispanic women, according to the CDC.
“I think that in additional to looking at statistics, we need to look at the emotional aspects and how we’re feeling,” Crawford told the group of women. The 20 or so responses given included low self-esteem, breakdown of the black family dynamic, change of value system since integration, socioeconomic conditions, the “down-low” factor among bisexual black men, and lack of cultural competency in health education.
With CDC data showing HIV infection as the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 25-34, “we don’t have the luxury of limiting our efforts to the two Ps: pontificating and the pamphlets,” says Crawford, explaining that this approach hasn’t worked well within the black community because rates of infection have continued to climb. While African Americans comprised 13% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 49% of all new cases of HIV/AIDS in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Instead, Crawford says public health officials need to do more outreach and “go to the people with this information,” communicating with them at a level they’d understand. “There is an apparent collective depression as well as hopelessness among some segments of the black community that correlates with self-destructive and risky sexual behavior,” she says. “This is also a factor contributing to high levels of violence in our community.” The attitude is “you take a chance—so what, you’re going to die anyway,” Crawford explains.
In addition to getting tested for HIV, attendees were encouraged to get an annual physical examination, including a pap smear, to determine their vaginal health and identify any harmful STDs including human papilloma virus, or HPV, which is linked to genital warts and cervical cancer. A 2007 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that African American women and Hispanic women were 1.5 times more likely to
develop cervical cancer than white women and are more likely to die as a result.
Another health concern affecting African Americans that sometimes is overlooked is periodontal disease, which attacks the gum and bone around the teeth and is the leading cause of tooth loss. Periodontal disease is more prevalent in African Americans than any other group, says Shai Hall, a general and cosmetic dentist at The Dental Spa in Marietta, Georgia. The mentality of “go to the dentists when there’s a problem,” is not enough because regular dental visits help to maintain overall dental health and avoid dental emergencies, she says. Poor dental health allows bacteria to travel through the blood stream and lends to susceptibility to other ailments such as heart disease, oral cancer, diabetes, and pregnancy difficulties, Hall adds.
Although African American women have a lower incident rate of breast cancer compared with white women, they have a higher mortality rate, according to the American Cancer Society. African American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer because tumors are