|Dr. David Ho, an HIV/AIDS specialist, draws blood from Magic Johnson, one of the people featured in Endgame: AIDS in Black America.|
During my high school and undergrad years, HIV/AIDS was a very hot topic. Coolio, TLC and Janet Jackson sang songs about it. Denzel Washington starred in a movie about it. Everyone knew to wear condoms and/or abstain from sex in order to avoid getting it. Most of all, everyone either knew or was related to a person who had died from it. These days, however, it seems like HIV/AIDS is out of sight and out of mind—and this is particularly disturbing since the disease is still disproportionately affecting and killing members of the Black community at epidemic proportions.
Despite the advent of antiretroviral medication which allows many HIV-positive people to live long, healthy—on top of an overall decline in the rate and spread of infection—amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS Research) reports that Black Americans account for nearly half of all new HIV infections each year despite representing a mere 13 percent of the U.S. population. It is estimated that 14 percent of those Blacks living with HIV are unaware of their infection. One in two gay Black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime with 56 percent of transgender women, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health study, being HIV-positive. About one in 48 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. Finally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans account for nearly half of AIDS deaths in U.S. since the epidemic began in 1981, and are 13 percent and 47 percent more likely to die from AIDS than Whites and Latinos respectively.
A 2014 analysis conducted by Duke University revealed that this crisis in the Black community is most critical in Southern states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) where more than half of all new HIV infections are diagnosed. Mississippi and Louisiana accounted for the highest HIV-related death rates among Black men with that rate being seven times the rate of the U.S. population. Many factors contribute to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among African Americans: poverty, scant local healthcare options, shame and silence regarding sexual orientation, and an overall lack of awareness and discussion about the disease. However, with the rate of infections in the Black community being comparable to or worse than rates in third world countries, we cannot afford to maintain such a status quo.
We must educate ourselves and our families. We must face and have difficult conversations about the who, what, where, why and how of HIV/AIDS. We must own and demand prevention and treatment for ourselves as if it is a civil right. It all starts with us and the following four steps our community must be willing to adopt.
Know HIV/AIDS facts. HIV/AIDS has not been a mysterious disease for well over 40 years now. Anyone who can read and possesses a smart phone can gain knowledge as to how the disease is spread, as well as its prevention, detection, symptoms and treatment. Click here to learn the basics.
Know Your Status. There are many places to get tested including free clinics, doctor’s offices and mobile testing vans. Again, anyone who possesses a smart phone can easily find a free, confidential testing site. There are even home HIV tests available at drug stores.
Make prevention a habit. Practicing safer (protected) sex, abstinence, refraining from sharing hypodermic needles, and talking opening and honestly about HIV/AIDS are all absolutely necessary and so is political engagement. The Trump administration has proposed a $186 million cut in funding to the CDC’s HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and support services. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would mean a drastic rollback in medical coverage, assistance and other resources combating spread of the disease. On the state and local level, government officials must not forget that the lives, health and well-being of each and every one of their constituents matter. Lobby all of your federal, state and local representatives to take up and own the cause of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
Get Treatment. If by chance you have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, it is not an automatic death sentence as long as you are willing to adopt the steps above and seek treatment as soon as you discover your status. Click here to learn more about how you can live and thrive with HIV/AIDS.