Today is a day to reflect on the lives touched by and lost to HIV/AIDS. In the United States, HIV continues to take its toll on African Americans, who have the highest rates of HIV infection of all races. Blacks make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for almost half of those living and dying with HIV and AIDS in this country.
There are many complex social and environmental factors that fuel the epidemic in African American communities. Especially concerning is poverty and the high level of unemployment within black communities during this current economic crisis. There are other factors associated with poverty that directly and indirectly increase the risk for HIV infection and affect the health of people living with HIV, including limited access to quality health care, housing, and HIV prevention education. Additionally, higher prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in black communities can significantly increase the chance of contracting HIV infection. Moreover, stigma and homophobia – far too prevalent in every community – continue to prevent many African Americans from seeking HIV testing, prevention and treatment.
While these realities paint a bleak picture, there is another image that has been unfolding – one of hope. As I have travelled throughout the United States, I have seen hope in the eyes of those receiving prevention services funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I have met many leaders of community organizations, faith-based groups and national African American institutions who are bringing hope to black communities as they advocate for the prevention of HIV. And now their work is supported by the President of the United States. In July, 2010, President Obama launched the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which provides a first-ever blueprint for fighting the U.S. epidemic, with a particular focus on populations hardest hit, including African Americans.
I also see hope in the fact that HIV prevention is working. The number of new infections among African Americans is stable and has been for more than a decade – despite the growing number of people living with HIV who can potentially transmit the disease. Additionally, there are dramatic declines in new infections in several categories where African Americans are disproportionately represented, such as mother-to-child transmission and injection drug use.
Black communities are more mobilized than ever against HIV. Nearly 500 organizations are sponsoring or have sponsored National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day events in the United States as well as in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. African American leaders from every walk of life – business, civil rights, entertainment, government and media – are speaking out and taking action at events across the nation, from health fairs and workshops to candlelight vigils and HIV testing events.
At CDC, HIV prevention in black communities remains one of our top priorities. Last year, more than half of our HIV prevention budget was invested to fight HIV among African Americans. Recently, CDC expanded a multi-million dollar testing initiative to reach more African Americans with HIV testing. And through CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, CDC seeks to harness the collective strength and reach of longstanding black community institutions to increase HIV-related awareness, knowledge, and action across the nation.
Everyone has a part to play in this fight against HIV as infection is completely preventable. On this NBHAAD, get the facts about HIV. Get tested. Speak out against homophobia and stigma. Everyone and every action counts.