African-Americans and HIV: Are We Still Paying Attention?


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report showing that new HIV infections are 40 percent higher than previously estimated, with the majority of new infections occurring among African- Americans.

African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the population, yet account for 45 percent of all new HIV infections. The CDC report begs the question: As the face of AIDS in America has turned increasingly Black, have our federal government and many of our fellow citizens simply stopped paying attention?

About 600,000 African- Americans are now HIV positive and as many as 30,000 are infected each year. According to an analysis by the Black Aids Institute, despite extraordinary improvements in HIV treatment, AIDS remains the leading cause of death among Black women aged 25-34, and the second leading cause of death among Black men aged 35-44. Blacks make up 70 percent of new HIV cases among teenagers and 65 percent of HIV-infected newborns.

At a time when the actions of our federal government and others are resulting in fewer deaths and greater access to affordable antiretroviral drugs in places like Namibia and Cambodia, more Black Americans are living with AIDS than the infected populations in Botswana, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Namibia, Rwanda or Vietnam.

In fact, according to the Black AIDS Institute, if Black America were a country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people living with HIV.

The Bush Administration should be applauded for its allocation of $50 billion in new emergency AIDS funding for the global fight against the disease, but I agree with NBLCA president and CEO C. Virginia Fields’ contention that the president’s focus on combating HIV/AIDS overseas has not been matched with a commitment to fighting the epidemic here at home. We need better and more targeted prevention efforts.

We must also do more to promote needle exchange programs, improve testing in prisons and deal with issues like poverty, homelessness and drug abuse which are known incubators for the disease. But government can’t do this job alone. We also however, must do more in our own communities to change behaviors and end the stigma and homophobia that keep us from reaching out to those in greatest need. The CDC report should be a wakeup call to Washington and to every American. We can and we must reduce this trend.

The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) has called for an emergency Congressional hearing on the implications of the CDC report. The group has also called on the presidential candidates to develop a national AIDS strategy and to make fighting the epidemic in Black America a high priority. The National Urban League stands with groups like the Black AIDS Institute and the Congressional Black Caucus, in issuing a national call to action. We must do more to protect our communities from this national epidemic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.