February 7th marked the annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) . Led by the Strategic Leadership Council, this initiative was designed to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment among black communities across the nation. Even with this national health observance and other efforts, findings from a new CDC study support the fact that HIV continues to have a significant impact on the health of young people, especially young black men who have same-sex partners.
In 2014, black men, aged 13-24, with same-sex partners accounted for the largest number of new HIV diagnoses in the United States. We don’t know all the reasons for the differences in higher HIV diagnoses among young black men with same-sex partners, but we know some of them. Black men who are infected with HIV are less likely to have health insurance, adhere to retroviral treatment, and have suppressed viral loads than their white counterparts. Additionally, smaller social and sexual networks, higher prevalence of having had sexual intercourse, and higher prevalence of HIV place black men who have sex with men (MSM) at increased HIV risk as compared with MSM of other races and ethnicities. All of these risks are further compounded by social determinants associated with poorer health outcomes, including higher rates of unemployment and incarceration and lower incomes and educational attainment.
CDC data show that black male high school students who had same-sex partners often had a lower prevalence of HIV-related risk behaviors than Hispanic or white male students who had same-sex partners. Black male students who had same-sex partners had a higher rate of condom use (47%) than white male students with same-sex partners (25%) and a similar rate as Hispanic male students who had same-sex partners (49%). These findings provide evidence that HIV-related risk behaviors alone do not drive the higher number of HIV-related diagnoses among black young men as compared with Hispanic and white young men who had same-sex partners.
These study findings highlight the urgent need for all young people to have access to preventive health services, including sexual health services and medically accurate information. Schools can be a critical partner in this effort to prevent or reduce HIV infection. To further this call, CDC’s funded partners are working with schools to:
- Establish school-based systems for referring students to health and sexual health services within the community;
- Increase student access to condoms using strategies such as in-school teams to promote condom access and health services referrals;
- Integrate information about health services into school health education curricula to build student knowledge and skills on how to access health services;
- Collaborate with health departments to conduct onsite HIV/STD screenings, treatment and follow up services; and
- Produce social marketing campaigns to encourage youth to be tested for HIV and other STDs through school based-health centers that link to community resources, such as youth-friendly providers.
Actions such as these must be integrated with those of other community sectors— healthcare, public health, faith organizations, and parent- and community-based organizations— to ensure that teens stay healthy now, establish healthy behaviors, and learn how to access and navigate the healthcare system.
CDC is committed to decreasing the incidence of HIV infection among all communities, including communities of color, so that we can work towards a future free of HIV/AIDS. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020 provides a framework for this important work. Included in the NHAS is an expansion of ongoing CDC efforts to assure that all teens have access to sexual health education that meets the needs of all students, and is provided in environments that are safe and supportive of all students.
In support of the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day theme, “I Am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper. Fight HIV/AIDS!,” CDC works with multiple sectors—from health care to education—to ensure young people have the skills and knowledge they need to protect their health and that of their partners against HIV infection. Addressing the burden of HIV/AIDS now and in the future will continue to require collaborative efforts across the public and private landscape to implement effective prevention programs and strategies to turn the dream of an AIDS-free generation into a reality for our youth.