Today is the 18th Annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. You might ask yourself, “Why do we need a special day just for Black people with or at risk of contracting HIV?” I ask you to consider the following:
- In 2015, 3,379 African Americans died from HIV disease, accounting for 52% of total deaths attributed to the disease that year.
- At the end of 2014, an estimated 471,500 African Americans were living with HIV (43% of everyone living with HIV in the United States), and 16% were unaware of their infection.
- In 2016, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention predicted that HALF of all gay and bisexual Black men will contract HIV in their lifetime.
- Young Black men between the ages of 13 and 24 face a particularly high risk, as they make up 54% of new infections among all men who have sex with men.
- Black women account for 60% of new infections among all women and are 16 times more likely to contract the virus compared to their white counterparts.
In July 2016, Charlize Theron, who is UN Messenger of Peace and founder of an outreach project targeting South African youth affected by HIV, said something profound when speaking to a crowd at 21st International AIDS Conference. She said, “We value men more than women … straight love more than gay love … white skin more than black skin … and adults more than adolescents” and even though her frame of reference is based largely on situations in South Africa, it’s hard to deny the striking parallels between there and here in the United States. The risk factors for HIV/AIDS seem to be global.
With that said, there are significant geographical disparities within the United States. Even though it’s widely accepted that HIV is “no longer a death sentence,” that is not the case for many people, particularly those in the South. According to a New York Times article written in June 2017:
“2,952 people in the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) died with HIV as an underlying cause, with the highest death rates in Mississippi and Louisiana. Among black men in this region, the HIV-related death rate was seven times as high as that of the United States population at large.”
(Take the time today to watch this short documentary about young black men dealing with HIV/AIDS in Jackson, Mississippi, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOSN1bKG3zQ)
The so-called Deep South is ground zero for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. Each of the states this region encompasses (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) share other notable but seeming related characteristics:
- They all have public school curriculums that teach abstinence-only sexual education;
- They are among the top 15 most impoverished states;
- They are collectively the home of 47% of the total Black population of the United States.
Even though statistics provide a sobering glimpse into this devastating epidemic, at the end of the day the numbers represent real people with unique stories, experiences, and perspectives.
Properly managing HIV/AIDS requires regular medical appointments, medication management, diet control, and major lifestyle changes.
For many people with HIV/AIDS, they also struggle with substance abuse, mental health issues, homelessness, and food insecurity.
Compound those challenges with misinformation, stigma, and discrimination, and you can see that fighting HIV/AIDS becomes more than an issue that can be solved with medicine, clean needles, and condoms alone. Attitudes have to change, and education is at the cornerstone.
The sooner everyone understands the risk factors and how the virus is spread, the sooner we as a society will get from under this daunting but preventable disease.
For more information about HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in Southern Maine, contact the Frannie Peabody Center—the largest community-based HIV/AIDS service organization in Maine, providing prevention services for at-risk groups and direct services for people living with HIV/AIDS. They also offer free, confidential HIV testing every Wednesday and by appointment.
Get Tested. Know your status. End the stigma.
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.
Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.