December 1st is World AIDS Day, and here in the United States we must draw attention to the need to combat AIDS in the African American community.
African Americans make up only 14 percent of our population but account for 44 percent of all new HIV infections, making them the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, according to the Centers for Decease Control and Prevention (CDC).
One in 16 black men and 1in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime, the CDC predicts. In 2009, black men had an HIV infection rate more than six and a half times as high as white men, and two and a half times as high as Latino men, as reported by the CDC.
In 2009, black women accounted for 30 percent of new HIV infections among blacks. A whopping 85 percent of black women with HIV acquired it through heterosexual sex. “The rate of new HIV infections for black women was more than 15 times as high as the rate for white women, and more than three times as high” as that of Latinas, the CDC found.
Blacks are especially at risk for social and economic reasons.
First, 27 percent of blacks live in poverty, compared to 9.9 percent of whites. That often translates into limited access to high-quality health care and HIV prevention education.
Second, African Americans experience higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections, which can significantly increase the chance of contracting HIV.
Third, the cultural stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in the African American community is so high that it discourages people from even finding out their health status. “Many at risk for infection fear stigma more than infection and may choose instead to hide their high-risk behavior rather than seek counseling and testing,” the CDC states.
This November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked the 30th anniversary of AIDS by speaking at the National Institutes of Health and announcing “a historic opportunity … to change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.” She defined such a generation partly as one in which “virtually no children are born with the virus.”
For such a generation to be possible in our country, we must first ensure that all women are free of the decease — especially African American women, who account for the highest percentage of mother-to-child infections in the United States.
On World AIDS Day, we have a long way to go to conquer this disease.
The best place to start, here at home, is with increased awareness, health education and prevention in the African American community.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams teaches writing at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, CT. She writes about current issues for the Progressive Media Project and can be reached at email@example.com.
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