February 7, 2011 marks the 11th year of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness day. This initiative is targeted directly at the mobilization of black communities, to increase awareness through education, testing and treatment. There are five national organizations which partner with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to oversee this yearly initiative; Alliances for Quality Education Inc.; Healthy Black Communities Inc. ; Multi-Cultural Addiction Networks, Inc.; My Brother's Keeper, Inc. and National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. Every year communities plan events and activities which raise awareness on HIV and getting tested.
Since the AIDS epidemic began in 1981, Blacks have been disproportionately affected. More than any other ethnic group in the United States, Blacks account for more new HIV infections, AIDS cases, people estimated to be living with HIV disease, and HIV related deaths. Even though Blacks make up 13% of the US population, Blacks account for about half (49%) of the people who get HIV and AIDS.
There are a number of the challenges when it comes to preventing HIV in Black communities;
- Sexual risk factors which include high-risk sexual contact such as unprotected sex with multiple partners or unprotected sex with persons known to have or be at a high risk for HIV infection. A number of people are unaware of their own and their partner's status.In a recent study of men who have sex with men (MSM) in five cities, 46% of the Black MSM were HIV-positive and 67% of those men were unaware of their infection.
- Injection drug use increases the rate of infection for Blacks. Sharing unclean needles is a risk and substance abuse users are more likely to engage in unprotected sex under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
- STDs continue to be experienced at higher rates within Black communities, more so than any other race/ethnicity in the United States.
- Stigma, a “negative social label that identifies people as deviant”, also puts too many Blacks at a high risk of infection. Any behavior deemed deviant (i.e. MSM) has been highly stigmatized. Many at risk for HIV infection fear stigma more than knowing their status, choosing instead to hide their high-risk behavior rather than seek counseling and testing. Therefore continuing to be at risk of contracting and passing it on to infect others.
- The socioeconomic issues associated with poverty, including limited access to high quality healthcare, housing and HIV prevention education may directly or indirectly increase the risk factors for HIV infection for Black people.
Great strides have been made in terms of educating the public, but as the statistics show, much more work needs to be done. This crisis affects all of us, directly or indirectly, and it will take all of our efforts to defeat it.
Tarrant County Public Health-Free HIV/Syphilis Testing @ the Health Department www.tarrantcounty.com
AIDS Outreach Center-Free Testing 400 N Beach, Fort Worth, Texas www.aoc.org
UT Southwestern Medical Center, HIV Testing 400 S Zang Blvd, Dallas, Texas www.utsouthwestern.edu