Tuesday, February 17, 2009

AIDS Now a Black Disease

Black AIDS Institute Report Finds both promise and setbacks in fight against the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic

The historic election of Barack Obama, a congressional majority more supportive of the fight against AIDS, and a black America more engaged than ever before could create real and lasting change in the course of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, says a new report released by the Black AIDS Institute.

At the same time, 2008 witnessed great setbacks, particularly in the effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Making Change Real: The State of AIDS in Black America 2009 lays out both the promise and the peril of this unique moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States.

The report includes data from a 2008 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study re-examining the size and depth of the U.S. HIV epidemic. Among the report’s key findings:
The U.S. epidemic is at least 40 percent larger than previously believed and growing by between 55,000 and 58,000 infections a year;
Black Americans represented 45 percent of people newly infected in 2006, despite being just 13 percent of the population;
Men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 53 percent of all new infections in 2006, and young black men were particularly hard hit.

“With our country facing so many challenges: two wars, a financial meltdown and the growing threat of environmental devastation, it may be tempting to relegate the AIDS epidemic to the back burner of national priorities,” said Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. “That would be a grave mistake.”

Data released last year reflects the racial disparity in AIDS deaths. In 2006, the latest year for which data is available, 7,426 Black Americans died from AIDS. While that is 1,253 fewer deaths than in 2005, blacks accounted for just over half of all AIDS deaths in 2006.

Phill Wilson, Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, shared his insights with Kristen Clarke, for TheDefendersOnline:

Q: February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Why is it important to mark this day?
Wilson: AIDS in America today, is a black disease. Nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody wants to own that. But no matter how you look at it - through the lens of gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, level of education, or region of the country where you live, black people bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.
Yet most of black America is totally unaware of the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic in our communities. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day helps black people realize that AIDS is our problem. It provides a space and time to have honest conversations about how HIV/AIDS is affecting our communities and what we need to be doing about it.

Q: What are the statistics on HIV/AIDS in the Black community, and why is the crisis so stark?
Wilson: Black Americans make up less than 13% of the US population. Yet we are 50% of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, nearly 50% of the new infections, and 50% of the annual deaths. Over 30% of the new HIV cases among Gay men are black, 40% of the new cases among men, 60% of the new cases among women, and 70% of the new HIV cases among teens are black.

Q: How do rates of infection among Black folks in the US compare with other American groups?
How do they compare with Black communities in theCaribbean and on the African continent?
Wilson: Black Americans are at greater risk for HIV infection and AIDS deaths than any other racial ethnic group. AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women, aged 24-34. If black America were a country unto itself, it would have the 16th largest epidemic in the world. In some segments of black America, the AIDS epidemic is worse than the worse hit parts of sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean. Washington DC, the capital of the richest country on the planet, has an AIDS epidemic worse than Port-Au-Prince Haiti, the capital of one of the poorest countries on the earth.

Q: There was much talk years ago about the “silence” in black America about this growing pandemic. Has that silence lessened? Has there been more public discussion of it in recent years?
Wilson: Thankfully, the silence about AIDS in black America is ending. More organizations are speaking out and stepping up. The Black AIDS Institute is spearheading a national Black AIDS mobilization. All of the major black civil rights organizations have joined the mobilization and have developed strategic action plans to confront HIV.

Q: What kind of action is necessary to help change the tide and reverse escalating rates of infection in the Black community?
Wilson: As Calvin Rolark said “Nobody can save us from us, but us.” The only way to end the AIDS epidemic in black communities is to build a mass black mobilization [effort]. Each and every one of us must do our part, and we must demand our leaders, and organizations be a part of the effort to end the AIDS epidemic. We need to put pressure on our clergy and elected officials to do more. And, we need to take personal responsibility of our own health.

We have to get informed about HIV/AIDS. Knowledge is a powerful weapon in the war against AIDS. We need to get tested. There is no reason to not know your HIV status today. And knowing your partner’s status can save your life.

We need to advocate for greater access to HIV treatment and care, and make sure the people we know who are infected are in care. Finally, we need to put an end to the stigma. We do not have one life to spare. HIV/AIDS stigma has no place in our community. The stigma undermines our ability to fight the epidemic and the cost is black lives.

For more information go to www.stophivaids.org or www.blackaids.org

The Promise of a New Era
While the challenges are great, black America is perhaps better poised to meet them today than ever before.

“The new Obama administration has vowed to take action on several fronts, including drafting America’s first comprehensive strategy to direct our efforts,” Wilson said. “But just as crucial, black America is engaged like never before. From individuals on up to our traditional black organizations,” said Wilson. “We’ve accepted the idea that this is our problem and we must find the solution.”

In 2006, 16 traditional black institutions launched the National Black AIDS Mobilization by signing on to the National Call to Action and Declaration of Commitment to End the AIDS Epidemic in Black America. The 16 institutions are not typical AIDS organizations. These groups, many of which have histories that span generations, were founded to meet a wide range of communal needs and concerns; they have now formally added AIDS to their work.

This report offers an update on the progress each group has made in fulfilling its pledge to act. Many of them have made great strides; others are just beginning their work. In all cases, far more resources and support are required from both public and private funders who seek to impact the AIDS epidemic. They include:
In 2008, two crucial groups joined the list of those that have completed strategic plans detailing how they will address HIV/AIDS: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League;
100 Black Men of America partnered with Aetna to create a website that members use as a healthcare management tool focusing on HIV/AIDS and other illnesses;
The National Council of Negro Women focused on HIV/AIDS at its national convention, a town hall meeting and an online survey that resulted in a series of recommendations for the next president, including a call for a national strategy to end AIDS;
The National Newspaper Publishers Association ran a 25-week series of HIV/AIDS opinion pieces that were published in 200 black newspapers each week.

The Report concludes with both recommendations for the President and his administration, as well suggestions to how individuals can get involved in fighting the AIDS epidemic a personal, community and societal level.

For more information about the Black AIDS Institute, and to download a PDF copy of the report, visit Making Change Real: The State of AIDS In Black America 2009

Read what actress/activist Gloria Ruben says about recommitting to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

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