African Americans and AIDS—Education Starts with a Test
By Meta J. Mereday
Among the many heated discussions taking place during this election season that impact the African American community, one that does not seem to generate as much heat is African Americans and AIDS.
Statistics suggest that African Americans have a higher incidence of the disease and the infection that can lead to AIDS – HIV.
HIV weakens the body’s defenses and its ability to fight off otherwise easily combatable health problems.
According to the Center for Disease Control, African Americans are the ethnic group that is most affected by HIV. Also in 2009, African Americans represented approximately 14 percent of the population, but accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation’s survey of Americans on HIV/AIDS in 2009, it is estimated that almost 500,000 African Americans are living with HIV. Based on that information alone, African Americans and AIDS should be a regular topic of discussion and a reference point for programs and services to address this growing epidemic.
What is the impact on the African American community? Looking at the death rate of African Americans and AIDS, the CDC reported that by the end of 2008, close to 250,000 African Americans with an AIDS diagnosis died in the United States.
In 2007, HIV was the ninth leading cause of death for all African Americans and the third leading cause of death for African American women and men aged 35-44.
The most alarming news is that there still exist high levels of fear and discrimination attached to even getting tested, resulting in many African Americans being unaware that they have the HIV virus.
Even more critical is the connection between African American women and AIDS. According to womenshealth.gov, women account for almost 25 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States. Of these new cases, over 60 percent are African American women. In most of these cases, the women got HIV from having unprotected sex with a man.
And despite more information about AIDS being distributed within the African American community, there is still not enough urgency, especially from medical personnel who represent and are supposed to look out for the best interests of their patients with “culturally competent” treatment.
The Kaiser survey outlined a disturbing statistic that despite African Americans becoming more aware about the impact of AIDS, testing levels have remained flat for the last five years and only 29 percent of African Americans surveyed stated that their health care professional ever mentioned that they should get tested.
Clearly, more work needs to be done to improve the lines of communication about resources and to reduce the fears that are attached with HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Improving the information about testing and encouraging those who are having sex to use condoms will go a long way to address the destructive alliance between African Americans and AIDS.
Health professionals, community advocates and elected officials who operate within the African American community can better serve their constituency with a unified effort to bring this issue to the forefront and continue to drive home the message that testing is not a stigma but a safety measure.
It all starts with you!
Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.