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A forgotten National Day: Bringing broader awareness to blacks living with HIV/A

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Feb. 7
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Feb. 7

Though it didn't get nearly as much of the spotlight as National Wear Red Day yesterday, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day also takes place on Feb. 7. The day was started 14 years ago to bring much needed attention to the disparity in education, diagnosis and treatment of the HIV epidemic in blacks and African-Americans.

Why single out black people with HIV/AIDS? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while blacks made up just 12 percent of the U.S. population in 2010, they contracted 44 percent of all new HIV infections in the country. Half of blacks with new HIV infections contract the disease through males having sex with males (MSM), especially younger gay and bisexual men, aged 13 to 24, a trend mirrored in Connecticut.

There are signs of progress in the fight against HIV among blacks. More often than other races and ethnic groups, they report getting tested for HIV at least once. The CDC's National HIV Prevention Progress Report, 2013 also reveals that blacks have met the target 2015 national goal to reduce new HIV infections among groups at increased risk by at least 25 percent. Unfortunately, the target goal to increase linkage to HIV medical care among all racial/ethnic groups to 85 percent or greater wasn't met in blacks; access is currently at 75.9 percent.

The State of HIV Among Blacks in Connecticut

According to the HIV Surveillance Program, of the CT Department of Public Health (DPH), there were 4,710 diagnosed cases of HIV in Connecticut from 2002 to 2010. Of these, 31.9 percent were black, while 32.6 percent were Hispanic. The rate in Hispanics decreased during this time by 75.4 percent, while it decreased by only 35.1 percent in blacks to 43.5 percent of total new cases in 2010. By 2012, the rate in blocks had dropped to 36.4 percent, or 122 of the 295 new cases of HIV reported to the CT DPH. While blacks have continuously had the highest rate of new cases for years, their rate of contraction has decreased by 5.1 percent since 2008.

In 2011, there were 10,585 living with HIV in Connecticut. Thirty-two percent were labeled 'black.'

The HIV Surveillance Program also reports that there were 93 newly diagnosed HIV infections in Hartford Country in 2012. Of these, 36.6 percent of these were black—more than any other racial/ethnic group.

There have been five reported cases of HIV infection diagnosed between 2006 and 2010 in East Windsor.

Why Is There a Higher Risk of HIV in Blacks

The CDC reports that the reason blacks have higher risks of HIV infection is not because they engage in more risky behaviors, but for the following reasons:

• In 2010, 17 percent of blacks who were living with HIV did not know it, and 23 percent were diagnosed in the last stage of the disease, eliminating the opportunity to get appropriate, early medical care and to have the knowledge that could prevent them from spreading the virus to others.

• In some black communities, the level of poverty leads to less access to health care.

• Blacks who do know they have HIV are often not getting the medical care they need. Data from 19 U.S. areas show that only 1 in 3 blacks with HIV are getting appropriate medical care to maintain a level of virus in the blood low enough to keep healthy and greatly decrease the risk of spreading the virus.

• A higher percentage of blacks are living with HIV compared to other races/ethnicities who have sex with partners of their same race/ethnicity increases the risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.

• Rates of different sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are higher in black communities, which can increase the chance of getting or spreading HIV.

How to Help

This year's National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, people are asked to think upon the theme, "I Am My Brother's/Sister's Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS" to see how each one of us can be a part of stamping out the HIV epidemic. We can do so by:

Getting educated through websites like the CDC's Act Against AIDS

Getting tested at least once, making it a part of routine health care for those 13-64. To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-232-4636 or visit National HIV and STD Testing Resources

Getting involved

Getting treated if you are HIV-positive to improve your health and to decrease the spread of HIV to your partners.

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