“Black Life Is Worth Saving”
February 12, 2009—Public health leaders across the U.S. spoke out strongly in support of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7, emphasizing how devastating the epidemic has become among African Americans and echoing the theme of this year’s Awareness Day, “Black Life Is Worth Saving.”
African Americans have been hit especially hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with social and economic factors—including racism, poverty, homophobia, and lack of access to healthcare—contributing to the rising infection rate. Although African Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, in 2005 they accounted for half of new HIV infections and half of AIDS cases, according to the CDC. Among women, African Americans acquired new HIV infections at a rate 15 times higher than white women. Among adolescents, blacks account for 69 percent of new cases of HIV. And more new HIV infections occurred among young African-American men who have sex with men in 2005 than any other group in the U.S.
“While race itself does not increase risk, high prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in black communities means African Americans face a greater risk of HIV infection with each sexual encounter than other group,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Stark realities of some African Americans’ lives—including poverty and limited access to health care—increase the likelihood of HIV infection. Stigma and homophobia also contribute to keeping HIV alive in black communities.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, released a statement on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day pointing out that in Washington, D.C., where the majority of the population is African American, one in 20 residents is living with HIV—about the same proportion as in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, one in 50 Washington residents has developed AIDS. “These shocking statistics would be tragic anywhere but are particularly inexcusable in a wealthy country such as the United States,” Dr. Fauci said.
“To win the battle against HIV, it is crucial that African Americans—and indeed, all Americans—get tested for the virus during routine medical care,” Dr. Fauci emphasized.