Posted July 30, 2008 – If Black America were a country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people living with the AIDS virus, the Black AIDS Institute, an advocacy group, reported Tuesday.
The Black AIDS Institute activist group issued a report saying the U.S. government had neglected the epidemic among Black Americans even as it fights the disease overseas.
"AIDS in America today is a Black disease," says Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the institute and himself HIV-positive for 20 years. "2006 CDC data tell us that about half of the just over 1 million Americans living with HIV or AIDS are Black."
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The report, financed in part by the Ford Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, provides a startling new perspective on an epidemic that was first recognized in 1981. It found:
"Five percent of the entire population (in DC) is infected... that's comparable to countries like Uganda or South Africa," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN for the recent "Black in America" documentary.
Nearly 600,000 African-Americans are living with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, and up to 30,000 are becoming infected each year, according to federal figures. When adjusted for age, their death rate is two and a half times that of infected Whites, the report said.
Those and other disparities are “staggering,” said Dr. Kevin A. Fenton, who directs HIV prevention efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency responsible for tracking the epidemic in the United States. “It is a crisis that needs a new look at prevention,” he asaid.
The Black AIDS Institute says it's not criticizing the federal government for helping poorer countries cope with the AIDS epidemic, but instead pointing out that the "AIDS epidemic [in the U.S.] is not getting the kind attention that it merits." Watch more on the new report on AIDS and African-Americans
"We understand the needs of Black folk in Johannesburg (South Africa)," Wilson says. "Why can't we understand the needs of them in Jackson, Mississippi?”
AIDS Crises Worldwide eases a bit
Meanwhile, the number of people killed by AIDS worldwide has edged down for a second straight year in 2007 after rising for more than two decades, amid intensified global efforts to fight the disease, a U.N. agency said on Tuesday.
The AIDS epidemic is far from over, but appears to have leveled off with more people getting life-extending treatment and the number of new HIV infections falling in many places, UNAIDS said in a report.
Officials with Geneva-based UNAIDS and outside activists said much more needed to be done to beat the modern plague. Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Washington-based activist group Global AIDS Alliance, said the report showed the big increase in spending on prevention and treatment programs in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere are helping.
"Based on this evidence, it's time to ramp up funding from all sources -- not to slow down or go on to other things. We're on the path toward victory here. Let's invest more," he said.
The total number of people living with HIV infections continues to inch higher as more people in hard-hit regions like sub-Saharan Africa, with two-thirds of all global cases, receive drugs that help them live longer, the UN report showed.
The U.N. report was issued in advance of the 17th International AIDS Conference, which begins this weekend in Mexico City.
UNAIDS said its report used data from 147 countries, but De Lay said he was disappointed the United States did not provide its 2007 AIDS figures because U.S. officials continue to "refine" the numbers and will announce them soon.
Last week, the U.S. Congress passed a bill to triple spending on a program to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa and other parts of the world. President George Bush is scheduled to sign it into law this week.
Meanwhile, Wilson says more needs to be done to prevent the spread of HIV in this country. The report states that the U.S. government "increased spending on HIV prevention, treatment and support programs for low-income countries dramatically, at the same time that domestic remained all but flat."
In the report the Institute release Tuesday, Wilson and others urge the federal government and private foundations to significantly increase funding for HIV prevention and treatment programs. The report also calls on international agencies to hold the U.S. government accountable for failure to address HIV/AIDS epidemic in its own country (despite lauding it for its PEPFAR efforts). It also urges BBlack communities in the United States to fight the stigma and overcome prejudice associated with being infected with HIV.
For more on Black AIDS Institute report go to www.blackaidsinstitute.com.