Silence = death (reprise)

By Michelle Chen Apr 14, 2009

Some serious dissonance is permeating the public dialogue on HIV/AIDS: while the problem continues to roil in communities around the country, acutely impacting Blacks and Latinos, public consciousness of the problem has faded. According to survey research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the public’s sense of urgency around HIV/AIDS as a health crisis has declined, and the national conversation about the epidemic has died down. And mainstream media outlets have been instrumental in driving (or curbing) the public dialogue around HIV/AIDS.

We found that the percentage of the American people who say that they have seen, heard or read a lot about HIV/AIDS in the U.S. has fallen from 34% five years ago to just 14% today.  The percentage of African Americans reporting this has fallen from 62% to 33%…. Today’s relative state of quiet and apparent lessened concern about HIV/AIDS has occurred despite the fact that in August 2008, the CDC announced that the number of new HIV infections each year in the U.S. is 40% higher than we previously thought. The CDC also underscored that our epidemic continues to be concentrated in familiar higher risk communities and groups: gay and bisexual men, African Americans, and teens and young adults.

The Black AIDS Institute’s 2009 report shows that the epidemic cuts unevenly across demographics:

• Black Americans represented 45 percent of people newly infected in 2006, despite being just 13 percent of the population. • Men who have sex with men accounted for 53 percent of all new infections in 2006, and young Black men were particularly hard hit. • But Blacks continue to represent a far outsized proportion of deaths each year. In 2006, Blacks accounted for just over half of all AIDS deaths.

With healthcare reform coming to the fore in Washington, activists may see a platform for examining HIV/AIDS as an example of structural inequality on all levels of the health system. Some of the recent hush may be due to advancements in treatment. But the racial disparities that persist show that the AIDS crisis isn’t a purely medical problem, but a matter of community enfranchisement. Images: Keith Haring, Kaiser Family Foundation