When it comes to news about HIV/AIDS in the African-American community, oftentimes it isn't encouraging. But some recent data released at the International AIDS Conference by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows some signs of hope.
By analyzing data from 1999 to 2011, the CDC found that American teenagers, especially African-American youth, are doing a better job in engaging in safer sex and abstinence in hopes of protecting themselves from contracting HIV. We are engaging in less risky behavior than we were two decades ago. And this is important, given that 40 percent of all new infections in the U.S. occur in people under the age of 30, and that African-Americans account for half of new infections overall each year.
USA Today reported some of the key trends that they found:
— The proportion of American high school students who have ever had sex fell from 54 percent to 47 percent. Among blacks, the proportion who have ever had sex fell even more sharply, from 82 percent to 60 percent.
—The proportion of students who had sex within the past three months declined from 38 percent to 34 percent overall. Among blacks, that number fell from 59 percent to 41 percent.
— The proportion of students who had four or more sexual partners decreased from 19 percent to 15 percent. Among blacks, that proportion fell from 43 percent to 25 percent.
— Among sexually active students, the proportion who used a condom the last time they had sex increased from 46 percent to 60 percent. Among black students, that rate grew from 48 percent to 65 percent.
The data doesn't explain why these changes in behavior happened, only that they did happen. But CDC officials speculate that increased awareness about HIV/AIDS from campaigns, leaders and advocates have played a huge role. But some advocates are somewhat concerned that the lack of comprehensive sex education and the media's disinterest with covering the epidemic because it has become a manageable disease will continue to stall condom-use numbers.
Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, said the study "is a mix of good news and persistent causes for concern."
Nearly half of teens in this country are still sexually active, "and a third or more (of those) did not use condoms most recently," he said. "This means that a very large population of our young people remains vulnerable to all of the perils of unprotected sex, HIV included. So this report is not a cause for celebration. It tells of a job that can be done when we address it well, and of a mission far from accomplished that deserves our more devoted attention."
He added: "No child should get HIV because our society is squeamish about the readily available means of preventing that."
And while condom use may be up, the infection rates in our community are still increasing, especially among Black gay and bisexual men. New data released at IAS on Monday found that a Black gay men have a 50 percent higher chance of contracting HIV than their white counterparts.
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