BHM: National Black HIV Awareness Day

htp Sojourner’s Place

Today is African American HIV/AIDs Awareness Day. African Americans continue to contract HIV at alarming rates due to failures in outreach, homophobia, poverty and lack of health insurance, and misperceptions about the spread of the disease. African American women are the largest group infected with HIV/AIDs in the United States. According to the Kaiser Foundation our infection rates are also on the rise, as are Latin@s; European-American women’s infection rates are on the decline. So while many African American organizations and churches paint the issue as an African pandemic (as does the media throughout the world, adding in India as their numbers begin to soar), the reality is that we are facing alarming infection rates here and now. Ours is a global pandemic and the African Diaspora is at as much risk as the continent.

According to the CDC, African Americans have:

  • More illness. Even though blacks (including African Americans) account for about 13% of the US population, they account for about half (49%) of the people who get HIV and AIDS.
  • Shorter survival times. Blacks with AIDS often don’t live as long as people of other races and ethnic groups with AIDS. This is due to the barriers mentioned above.
  • More deaths. For African Americans and other blacks, HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death.

We represent 49% of the people infected in the U.S. while white people represent 31% and Latin@s 18%. Latin@s are the largest growing infected population (meaning gain in infections over the years vs. number of people infected). What this means is that communities of color continue to receive disproportionate outreach, education, and care as well as grapple with internal issues like homophobia and heterosexist analysis of HIV/AIDs as well as religious biases about sexuality in general.

Much of the problem in the early years, was the American media’s portrayal of AIDS as a disease of white gay men. Black Americans were given few reasons to believe that AIDS could affect them, even though black men made up a large proportion of the early cases of AIDS in the gay and bisexual community, and from the outset, black heterosexual adults and children were significantly more likely to be infected than whites. (Androite 1999)

61% of all women infected with HIV or AIDs in this country are African American. That is more women than all the other ethnic groups combined. Latinas and white women make up less than 20% each, with slightly more white women infected than Latinas.

African American women & Latin@s are more likely to be dependent on medicare and other subsidized medical plans for their health care than other women. Questions of best practices toward black and brown women and expanded funding for preventative as well as maitenance care have not been a major part of the discussion of universal health care or government health care spending in general.

CDC research shows that these are the most common ways African Americans are contracting the virus:

Men

  1. having unprotected sex with another man who has HIV
  2. sharing injection drug works (like needles or syringes) with someone who has HIV
  3. having unprotected sex with a woman who has HIV

Women

  1. having unprotected sex with a man who has HIV
  2. sharing injection drug works (like needles or syringes) with someone who has HIV

The ADVERT organization argues that the following factors contibute to our higher infectin rates:

  • poverty
  • lack of access to proper health care
  • racism
  • higher incidences of incarceration
  • older male partners with less experienced younger female ones
  • lack of outreach
  • stigma
  • drug use

Another factor is the lack of appropriate diversity in clinical research. Historically both women and people of color have been underrepresented in research on HIV and AIDs prevention. The Gender Race and Clinical Experience (GRACE) study was one of the first attempts to correct this problem. It was the largest HIV and AIDs study ever undertaken to focus specifically on women and people of color’s experiences. Unfortunately, 25% of the study participants vacated the study before its completion. While African Americans are understandably wary of medical research trials, our participation is critical to curbing the tide.

Black Aids Institute is also helping turn the tide by launching the HIV University, a program to educate African American college students, student services, and faculty about HIV and AIDs so that they can open their own campus appropriate outreach, education, and support centers. It is also supported by Ledge Magazine, a biannual magazine about HIV and AIDs for historically black colleges.

Black AIDs Institute has also put together a helpful pamphlet by and for African American women about the HIV and AIDs, you can download it by clicking here. (Please pass it around)

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