News| HIVAIDS | Is AIDS in America Now a Black Disease?

News| HIVAIDS | Is AIDS in America Now a Black Disease?

Published February 11, 2008

Posted June 5, 2006 – How did AIDS go from a strange illness discovered among five White gay patients at University of California Los Angeles 25 years ago to a disease that’s devastating many African American families?

The answers are revealed in AIDS in Black Face:  25 Years of an Epidemic, a sweeping analytical study released at a news conference in New York by the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute.

And Black Entertainment Television has joined the Institute and a number of committed key Black leaders and celebrities who have banded together to lead a new call to action surrounding the release of the study.

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"The AIDS story in America is mostly one of a failure to lead," said Debra L. Lee, chairman and CEO of BET Networks. "BET is proud to stand with the Black AIDS Institute and other leaders in calling on Black leaders and organizations to step forward. Whether as opinion shapers or industry titans, we all must use our positions to help build a mass grassroots community movement to end HIV/AIDS."

With that mandate in mind, Lee and a number of committed key Black leaders and celebrities gathered in New York Monday to call on all sectors of Black America -   from individuals to political, religious and cultural leaders - to commit to taking action against HIV/AIDS by engaging in a coordinated campaign to develop a national commitment and focus around the issue. 

"For Black America, the moment of truth has arrived,"  said actor Danny Glover, a long-time AIDS activists and humanitarian. "If we are to survive the AIDS epidemic, we are going to have to gather all of our resources and marshal them for the political struggles that lay ahead. We're calling on all major Black organizations to make fighting AIDS a top priority by setting concrete measurable goals and real deadlines." 

Since 1981, at least 65 million people have been infected with HIV worldwide and more than 25 million have died, reports the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). And now, the disease is one of the leading causes of death among African Americans.

Nearly half of the estimated one million Americans living with HIV/AIDS are Black; more than half of the estimated 40,000 people newly diagnosed with HIV each year are Black. Yet, Blacks are 13 percent of the population.

African Americans diagnosed with HIV are now eight times more likely to die from it than Whites. And Blacks are not short on such diagnoses in Black America.

“In 2006, AIDS in America is a Black disease,” said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute. “The only way for AIDS to be over in America is for AIDS to be over in Black America, and the only way to stop AIDS in Black America is for Black people to take ownership of the disease and mount a mass Black mobilization.” 
AIDS in Black Face:  25 Years of an Epidemic, penned under the guidance of the Black AIDS Institute, looks at how a strange illness among five White gay patients at UCLA became the defining issue of our time, and its disproportionate impact on African Americans.

The report features the testimonies of 25 African Americans who have witnessed the devastation of the AIDS epidemic from the frontline.  They are people who in ways both large and small have decided to change the course of the epidemic.

The individual testimonies are drawn from five broad sectors of our community: politics, community organizing, the church, the arts and the news media. They include celebrities like Glover and actress Sheryl Lee Ralph; leading political figures like Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California); religious leaders such as Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; and familiar media voices like NNPA's Curry and American Urban Radio Network talk show host Bev Smith. (To see the full report, check the "See Also" section to your left.)

The report also calls for:

  • Expanding Proven Prevention Work - This includes federal funding of needle exchange programs, appropriate discharge planning for prisoners and comprehensive AIDS prevention for young people inclusive of abstinence, delayed gratification, sexual responsibility, safer sex practices, proper condom usage, and other risk reduction strategies.
  • Protecting Access to Treatment - Demand that Congress and the White House maintain and strengthen the network of programs designed to make healthcare affordable and support the AIDS safety net.  Reauthorize adequate funding of the White Care Act, and end efforts to shift Medicaid costs onto poor families.
  • Ending the Debilitating Stigma that Fuels the Spread of HIV - Acknowledgement of the sexual diversity in Black America.

"We have dithered too long.  Each year the epidemic worsens in Black neighborhoods, and each year the national commitment to interrupting its spread and keeping those already infected healthy grows weaker." said Rev. Edwin Sanders, Senior Servant, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee. "AIDS in Black America is a difficult and multifaceted problem - but it is also a winnable war.  This report provides a strategy for us to stop the slaughter." 

Do you know anyone personally who has AIDS/HIV? Could more be done to find a cure for AIDS/HIV?  Click "Discuss Now" to post your comment.

Written by BET-Staff


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