HIV is a crisis in African-American communities that continues to threaten the health and well-being of Black men and women across the United States. Further, the community faces the most severe burden of HIV and AIDS than any racial/ethnic group in the nation.
As a grim reminder of these unvarnished facts, Feb. 7 marks the observance of the 14th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day designed to remind Americans that HIV remains a critical public health concern in African-American communities more than thirty years after the first AIDS cases were identified.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data released Thursday showing that additional efforts are needed to ensure that individuals who are infected with HIV receive the care and treatment they need.
“The day provides an important opportunity to talk about testing in our community,” Dr. Donna Hubbard McCree, associate director for health equity at the division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC told NewsOne. “And also it’s a community mobilization initiative. It’s really about getting the message out. ‘I am my brother or sister’s keeper’ was the original theme, but the real specific focal points are around getting educated, tested and getting treatment. It’s a way to keep the conversation about HIV and the affect that it’s having in African-American communities on the table.”
These are the facts: African Americans now bear the greatest burden of HIV in the United States, accounting for nearly half of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV and nearly half of those who have died with AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, the CDC says.
Among African Americans, just as in other racial and ethnic groups, gay and bisexual men, especially young men, are the most impacted population, accounting for the majority of new infections. African-American women also bear a large, disproportionate burden, with almost two-thirds of new infections in 2010 among women occurring among Black women.
The harsh numbers signal that improvements need to be made not only in diagnosing individuals with HIV, but also ensuring they are engaged in care and treated effectively to keep their virus under control.
Published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the new data examines the percentage of African Americans diagnosed with HIV infection who were receiving care and treatment in 2010.
Among Blacks who had been diagnosed with HIV, 75 percent were linked to care, 48 percent stayed in care, 46 percent were prescribed antiretroviral therapy, and 35 percent achieved viral suppression (i.e., the virus is under control at a level that helps keep people healthy and reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to others), the report shows. Black males had lower levels of care and viral suppression than Black females, and those who were younger (under the age of 25) had lower levels than those who were older.
“Our data tells us that treatment can help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and helps prevent the transmission of the virus to others,” McCree said. “We’re excited about these data because it gives us a snapshot around what’s going on around treatment and care within African-American communities. And given the disproportionate rates of HIV within African-American communities, it’s critical that we make individuals aware of their status so they can get their virus under control.”
Indeed, Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for external medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, agrees that National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is important.
“This day is extremely important because it helps to raise awareness about HIV and AIDs,” she told NewsOne. “It’s important to re-emphasize the importance of prevention and the importance of knowing your HIV status and knowing the HIV status of your sexual partner. We have been trying for years to destigmatize HIV/AIDS and periodic testing. This particular day is important because African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV infections and AIDS and disproportionately affected by death as a result of AIDS. This is a day to shine a spotlight on the need to prevent HIV. HIV infection is highly preventable.”