As we commemorate National Minority Health Month during April, we recognize that this is truly a moment of unprecedented opportunity for health equity – including equity in HIV prevention and care.
One year after the launch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’ first-ever Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities and the National Partnership for Action’s National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity, the Federal government is embracing a renewed commitment to health equity.
One area of importance is reducing disparities in HIV infection and care for racial and ethnic minorities, who accounted for almost 71 percent of newly diagnosed cases of HIV infection in 2010 among adults and adolescents in the 46 states with mature HIV reporting, according to CDC’s latest data. While blacks represent 12 percent of the population of the 46 states, for instance, they accounted for 46 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2010. Latinos, who represent about 16 percent of the population, accounted for 20 percent of new HIV diagnoses that year. In addition, while they represent much smaller shares of newly diagnosed HIV infections, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Other Pacific Islanders were diagnosed with HIV at higher rates than their white counterparts in 2010, according to the CDC’s 2010 HIV Surveillance Report. (HIV/AIDS rates among Asian Americans are lower than those found in any other racial and ethnic group.)
The fight against these disparities has drawn momentum since the release of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). Released by the President in July 2010, the NHAS declares that “a national response to the HIV epidemic needs to be mindful of the size, diversity, and richness of our country, as well as the needs of the most affected communities. The NHAS not only represents the nation’s first-ever comprehensive HIV strategy; it is also the first time that HIV-related disparities have been acknowledged at such a high level, and targeted with strategies focused on support for underserved communities. The Office of Minority Health is proud to be among the agencies and offices across HHS working together to provide a more coordinated response to HIV/AIDS in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act is helping to ensure better care for people living with HIV/AIDS. With greater options for stable, affordable health insurance coverage; protection from insurance company abuses; and increased opportunities for health and well-being, people living with HIV/AIDS will benefit from a health care system that puts consumers first.
Most recently, HHS announced the availability of $15 million in funding for community-based organizations across the country that provide care and critical services to people living with HIV and AIDS through both supplemental and new funding in the Ryan White program. By improving and increasing access to care for people living with HIV, this initiative will help to reduce HIV-related health disparities – a critical objective in the implementation of the NHAS.
And at the Office of Minority Health, we are developing policies and programs to address the burden of HIV/AIDS on communities of color. For instance, our HIV/AIDS Health Improvement for Re-Entering Ex-Offenders (HIRE) Initiative seeks to bridge HIV-related health care gaps by linking HIV-positive ex-offenders who are re-entering the mainstream population to comprehensive health care and case management services.
But even as these initiatives spur progress, one thing is clear: realizing our vision of an AIDS-free generation will depend on far more than leadership by government agencies. In the fight against the national HIV epidemic, everyone is a stakeholder. And everyone can take action.
This year, we have designated the theme for Minority Health Month to be “Health Equity Can’t Wait: Act Now in Your CommUNITY!” – a call to action for stakeholders everywhere to join in raising awareness about health disparities and health equity. To find out more, and join in the movement, visit http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/actnow/.