To raise greater awareness of the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS in the African American community and mobilize action by community members, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research co-hosted a summit in Washington, DC last month. The November 2 gathering, “The Forgotten Epidemic: Our Collective Response, Responsibility & Solution to the Black AIDS Crisis,” also highlighted how the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are helping to address HIV/AIDS in the African American community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV of all racial/ethnic groups in the United States. Despite representing only 14% of the U.S. population in 2009, CDC estimates that African Americans accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections in that year. Compared with members of other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of HIV infections at all stages of disease—from new infections to deaths. African American gay and bisexual men and African American women continue to be among the hardest hit populations. (Read the CDC’s new fact sheet HIV Among African Americans.)
Audience members and panel participants spoke passionately about the role that social determinants of health play in sustaining those HIV-related health disparities. They also discussed their shared commitment to mobilizing to end the epidemic. “This is an issue for many of us; 41 percent of Black people in this country know somebody who has the virus. For many of us this is very close to our hearts,” said NAACP President and CEO Mr. Benjamin Jealous. “The association is no different. We’re committed to being a powerful voice … We’re committed to pushing the conversation even further at the church level and the community level.”
Addressing these stark HIV-related disparities during the summit were speakers from across the Federal government including Mr. Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, who discussed how the National HIV/AIDS Strategy calls for prioritizing efforts targeting heavily impacted communities, including African Americans, as well as the importance of increasing HIV awareness and testing and reducing stigma among the same populations. The approximately 80 participants also heard from CDC’s Dr. Jonathan Mermin, RADM Deborah Parham-Hopson of the HIV/AIDS Bureau at the Health Resources and Services Administration, Mr. Greg Millet of CDC, and Mr. Christopher Bates, Executive Director of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). Mr. Millett spoke to the importance of addressing HIV stigma and homophobia in the African American community as part of efforts to reduce new HIV infections and improve access to HIV care and health outcomes in the same community. Finally, Mr. Bates spoke about PACHA’s commitment to focusing attention on the populations and communities that have been hardest hit by the epidemic, including African American gay and bisexual men and African American women.
Offering a perspective from Congress were Representatives Barbara Lee of California and Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, DC. Congresswoman Lee, co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, spoke about her work to end HIV-related discrimination and stigma, which hinders the nation’s efforts to prevent new infections and retain those living with HIV in care and treatment.
“The NAACP has identified HIV/AIDS as a national priority,” said Ms. Shavon Arline, NAACP’s Director of Health Programs. “We realize this is the number one killer among African American women ages 25-44 and will continue to raise awareness and bring a sense of urgency to this epidemic to save our families.” The summit was just one of several HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy activities underway at NAACP, which is a partner in CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative.
Underscoring the organization’s commitment to addressing HIV/AIDS, Ms. Rosalyn Brock, the national chairperson of the NAACP, closed the meeting with a rousing call to action. Invoking the perseverance and dedication of America’s civil rights leaders she urged the participants to be persistent in their efforts to educate and inform friends, family, colleagues and leaders at the local, state and national levels about the continuing impact of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and what needs to be done to address it, particularly among communities of color.