Thirty years after the AIDS epidemic burst onto the scene, data from the Centers for Disease Control show that Blacks still rank highest among racial groups in the U.S. infected with the HIV virus.
The estimates show that, although African-Americans compose 14 percent of the total U.S. population, blacks accounted for 44 percent (21,200) of all new HIV infections in 2009 — a rate almost eight times as high as that of whites. From 2006 to 2009, the data showed no significant change in overall HIV incidence among Blacks.
Although the numbers are dismal in comparison to white Americans, Dr. Donna McCree, Associate Director for Health Equity told BET.com that the data isn’t all doom and gloom.
“We have made significant progress since the beginning of the epidemic and I think that’s important,” McCree said. “We have cut the incidence from 130,000 cases to the new [figure of] 50,000 people becoming infected each year. That shows progress.”
The CDC’s report cites unique social and economic issues such as poverty, lack of access to healthcare, high rates of incarceration and social stigma as factors that contribute to the high rates of HIV infection among African-Americans.
While many of the factors are difficult to change, McCree says reducing stigma is a key component to lowering the HIV rate in the Black community.
Talking about HIV should be “as easy a discussion as when we talk about getting an annual test for cholesterol or checking your blood pressure,” she said. “It should become just that easy to discuss in the community so that we know the facts about it, know how it’s transmitted, know how it's prevented. Also, talking about it in faith-based organizations, talking about it in civic organizations, parents talking to children ... I think that’s critical.”
The CDC is currently working to partner with more organizations in the African-American community to help distribute information and increase awareness. However, despite the myriad variables that contribute to high HIV rates, McCree’s biggest piece of advice for African-Americans is simple: know your status.
“HIV is preventable. Completely preventable,” she said. “The sooner an individual knows their status, the sooner they can take steps that not only protect themselves but protect their partners as well.”
(Photo: Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)