Understanding AIDS in the Black community

By Michelle Chen Feb 06, 2009

A new report on AIDS in Black America, published this week by the Black AIDS Institute, reveals how HIV and AIDS have impacted the Black community and how racial health disparities are fueling an epidemic. Among the findings, new statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detail troubling patterns:

*The U.S. epidemic is at least 40 percent larger than previously believed and growing by between 55,000 and 58,000 infections a year; *The U.S. has never logged fewer than 50,000 new infections a year, contrary to prior belief that we leveled out at 40,000 new infections a year in the mid-1990s; *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.The racial disparity in AIDS deaths continued in data released last year: *In 2006, the latest year for which data is available, 7,426 black Americans died from AIDS. That number represents a meaningful improvement over the previous year—a decline of 1,253 deaths. *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…. The federal commitment to all areas of AIDS work—prevention, treatment and research—has all but disappeared. *The CDC’s annual HIV-prevention budget has never topped $800 million—a fraction of what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war in a week; *The prevention budget has been cut by 20 percent in the past five years, in real dollar terms; *The CDC spent just under $369 million on black-specific prevention and research in fiscal year 2008, or 49 percent of the overall budget. *Between 2004 and 2008, the discretionary domestic AIDS budget remained virtually flat, while global spending increased by more than 20 percent annually.

A section titled “State of Prevention” notes that the Black youth and LGBT communities face an acute challenge:

The Black epidemic is not only larger and faster-growing than the rest of the American epidemic, it’s also younger. Among Black gay and bisexual men in particular, an entirely new generation is being captured by HIV.

The organization’s 2008 report compared the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in American Black communities with the raging epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa. The Institute drew stark parallels between the suffering of disenfranchised communities around the globe, which are in turn tied to U.S. government policies at home and abroad. So how does AIDS fit into the Obama administration’s public health agenda?

During his presidential campaign, Obama signaled that he understands the tangled up crises that have produced the epidemic in black neighborhoods, and he vowed not to shrink from that reality if elected. … It will be tempting for policymakers and advocates alike to allow the hard work of realizing the new administration’s potential on AIDS to drop in priority, given the overwhelming economic challenges the nation faces. We cannot afford that delay. Like many of the challenges President Obama now faces, the previous administration’s neglect of black America’s downward spiral into AIDS makes urgent action a dire necessity now.