It Takes a Village to Fight HIV/AIDS!

By Rob Banaszak on February 7, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

AIDS United Observes National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2011

by Ronald Johnson
AIDS United Vice President of Policy & Advocacy

Vice President, AIDS United recognizes the 11th annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, February 7, 2011.  We keep in our memory the many thousands of black Americans, who have died as a result of AIDS.  We honor black Americans who are living with HIV/AIDS and we reach out to black Americans who are vulnerable to HIV infection.

The theme of this year’s awareness day is “It Takes a Village to Fight HIV/AIDS!”  This theme especially resonates as we approach, on June 5, the 30th year of the recognized HIV/AIDS epidemic here in the United States and worldwide.  In 2011, we continue to face the toll of HIV and AIDS on communities of color, especially African American communities.  By nearly every measure, black children, women, and men are the Americans most disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.

As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at the end of 2007 black people accounted for nearly half, 46%,  of people living with a diagnosis of HIV in the 37 states and 5 dependent areas with long-term name-based HIV reporting.  In 2006, 45% of the estimated new cases of HIV infection were among black people.  The rate of new HIV infections among black women is almost 15 times as high as the rate among white women and nearly 4 times that of Hispanic women.  From 2001-2006, new HIV diagnoses among young black men who have sex with men (MSM) aged 13-24 in 33 states increased by 93%, a pace that should be alarming and disturbing to everyone.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day has a particular focus on community mobilization to increase HIV testing and treatment.  HIV prevention is still critical and in 2010 we saw further advances that demonstrate the linkage among testing, treatment and prevention.  Transmission of HIV is driven to a large degree by people who do not know that they are infected.  Voluntary HIV testing and counseling must be scaled up to decrease the number of black Americans who do not know their HIV status.  There is solid evidence that when people know that they are infected with HIV, they take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and to protect others from transmission, included getting into care and treatment.  Recent research findings are showing the efficacy of treatment as prevention, as the recent findings from the iPrEx study and the CAPRISA 004 microbicide study demonstrate.

While the “toolbox” of demonstrated HIV prevention initiatives expands, the lynchpin of stopping  the spread of new HIV infections remains the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine.  Black Americans have a clear stake in HIV vaccine research.  Awareness of and support for clinical trials to test potential vaccines, such as the HVTN 505 study that targets MSM, should increase among black Americans.  Myths about and distrust of HIV vaccine research, and fears about vaccines generally, should be addressed and discussed openly.

It will take a village to fight HIV/AIDS among black Americans.  The good news is that this is not new.  Black history, which we also highlight and celebrate this month, shows that collective hope and action dispels despair.  The administration of America’s first black President has developed and is implementing the country’s first targeted and measurable National HIV/AIDS Strategy.  Today we take special notice of HIV/AIDS among black Americans.  But ending the epidemic is something we all can achieve by working together.  Increasing testing, getting every HIV positive person into care, and expanding HIV prevention can be done.  It just takes all of us villagers to be involved.

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