(Photo: Courtesy of The Center for Disease Control)
In the beginning of August, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released some discouraging news about HIV. While newly–diagnosed cases of HIV had remained stable between 2006-2009, clocking in at 50,000 each year, African-American gay and bisexual men were the only subgroup with a notable increase—48 percent during that time period.
What are some reasons behind the rise?
Some factors could include not being aware of their HIV status, inadequate health care and the stigma of HIV and homophobia in the Black community, says the CDC.
This week, the CDC will launch a new testing initiative for black gay and bisexual men. Testing Makes Us Stronger will be launching in five cities next week: Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, New York and Oakland. Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hope that this campaign will lead to increased testing and general awareness among the disease’s most affected group.
Colorlines' reporter Kyle Bella sat down with Richard Wolitski, a deputy director in the CDC’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Division, to discuss the Testing Makes Us Stronger campaign, its affirming message and how the national budget crisis impacts funding for programs addressing the AIDS epidemic.
On why the CDC believes that the Testing Makes Us Stronger campaign is a powerful effort:
"Testing is a critical part of what we can do to reduce HIV risk because knowing one's status is important in order to get medical care and treatment for their infection. The CDC has shown that people who know their status engage in behaviors that significantly reduce risk for others of contracting HIV.
And the reality, based on 2008 data out of the National Behavioral Surveillance System surveying 21 major urban areas, is that 59 percent of black men who have sex with men who tested positive for HIV were unaware of their status."
On how this campaign addresses the homophobia that makes black MSM more vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS:
"I think it would be naive to assume any one campaign could undo years of damage related to homophobia and discrimination that black men have experienced. But we hope that this campaign will show the positive aspects of the black gay community. Ideally it would play a small role in breaking down these issues in the community. Part of why we think Testing Makes Us Stronger can be successful is that the models chosen in this campaign are real people. Our hope is that black gay and bisexual men and others outside of this community will be able to relate. Through this, we hope they can feel a connection to their experiences and struggles."
On the link between LGBT bullying and HIV/AIDS:
"It's clear that bullying, harassment and rejection lead to higher rates of HIV infection. Those that suffer from bullying at school are far more likely to experience depression, suicide attempts and engage in unprotected sex, which increases HIV infection risk. The same has been shown for families who reject LGBT youth. Our data here have shown they are three times more likely to engage in unprotected sex."