Despite the fact that it’s wildly important, HIV is a subject many African-American physicians are nervous about bringing up with their patients.
According to a new study commissioned by Janssen Therapeutics and the National Medical Association, social stigmas are still the largest barriers keeping African-American frontline physicians from testing their patients for HIV and AIDS. African-Americans are currently one of the groups at the highest risk for HIV infection in the United States, and a healthy testing program is one of the primary ways to combat that reality. With a lack of testing, the Black community could potentially face erosion by HIV for decades to come.
According to the study, though 93 percent of African-American physicians agreed that HIV is either “very serious” or “a crisis” in the Black community, far fewer actually routinely test their Black patients for HIV. Of the physicians interviewed for the study, only one-third of their patients had been tested for HIV in the past year, and not because the patients themselves were opposed to testing. Rather, many of the physicians were unwilling to recommended HIV testing because of social stigmas associated with the procedure.
The survey found that three of the top five barriers to routine testing cited by African-American physicians relate to social stigma. Specifically, physicians are concerned that patients may perceive the recommendation to test as accusatory or judgmental (57 percent); would not want to be identified as HIV positive and would worry about people finding out (48 percent); and would be offended due to the stigma associated with HIV (43 percent).
In other words, doctors were a little too embarrassed to talk about healthy sexuality with their patients, and so they were perfectly fine allowing them to enter and exit their offices without talking to them about a major disease ravaging the Black community. The number-one killer of African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34 is AIDS, and this is in a first-world country. That doctors aren’t taking it more seriously is awful, especially because patients listen to their doctors: Doctors surveyed for the study estimated that 70 percent of patients who got tested in the past year did so on their recommendation.
Yes, the responsibility for not contracting HIV and AIDS often lies in the hands of average citizens. But preventing the spread of HIV is everyone’s responsibility. Like the rest of us, Black physicians need to step up to the plate and get serious about African-American HIV.
(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)