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Progress on HIV among African Americans, Still a Long Way to Go

Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH

Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH

February 7 marks the 15th year of the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day observance. This day is a call to action for communities across the country to come together to reduce the burden of HIV and AIDS in Black America.

We begin 2015 with hopeful signs that we, as a nation, are beginning to make real progress in the fight against HIV among blacks/African Americans. New data released today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report* show death rates among blacks with HIV are down 28% from 2008-2012, a greater decline than that reported for any other race/ethnicity. New data also show that blacks/African Americans are more likely than other races/ethnicities to get tested, 65% compared with 46% for Hispanics/Latinos and 41% for whites. Today too, 85 percent know their HIV status, similar to all Americans. This is good news, but the reality remains that blacks/African Americans are still disproportionately affected by HIV than any other race/ethnicity.

Almost half (44%) of all new infections are among blacks. And even though we are optimistic about a decline of 21 percent from 2008 to 2010 among black women, the rate of new HIV infections for this group remains 20 times as high as that of white women. As well, more than a third (41%) of people with HIV are black, and 51 percent of these are gay and bisexual men, with the epidemic growing at an alarming rate among young black gay and bisexual men. These numbers alone are concerning, but also troubling is that less than 50 percent of blacks with HIV are in care and only 28 percent have their virus under control with treatment.

A top priority for CDC is to help build coordination and the capacity to change these numbers so more blacks/African Americans get tested and receive the care and treatment needed. Some of our activities include:

  • Funding ($55 million) to 34 community-based organizations (CBOs) to test an additional 90 thousand young gay, bisexual, and transgender youth of color;
  • Supporting health departments and CBOs to increase linkage to care by reducing social, structural, clinical, and economic barriers;
  • Helping to build partnerships between health departments and community health centers to improve access to and retention in treatment;
  • Strengthening and expanding capacity building assistance for CBOs to implement successful high impact prevention activities for those with and without HIV; and
  • Using campaigns, such as Testing Makes Us Stronger and Take Charge/Take the Test, to promote HIV testing and treatment among African Americans, especially among young black gay and bisexual men and black women.

It is a complex matrix that is driving the disproportionate impact of HIV in the black/African American community. Our response must match this complexity. I invite all of you to join our efforts to confront the myriad factors that hinder progress and engage in those that move us toward success. To achieve the goals of the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy to reduce HIV incidence; increase access to care and optimize health outcomes for people living with HIV; and reduce HIV-related health disparities, we must be coordinated and act on every level, national, state, local, and individual. If we do this, we can achieve a future without AIDS.

*“Mortality among Blacks/Africans Americans Diagnosed with HIV, 2008–2012 – United States”; “HIV Testing and Service Delivery among African Americans in 61 Health Department Jurisdictions, 2013”