National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

February 7, 2016, marked the 16th anniversary of NBHAAD

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National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) was founded in 1999 by five national organizations funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Concerned Black Men, Inc., of Philadelphia; Health Watch Information and Promotion Services, Inc.; Jackson State University—Mississippi Urban Research Center; National Black Alcoholism and Addictions Council; and National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. To curtail the growing HIV and AIDS epidemic in African Americans, NBHAAD was designed to test, educate, raise awareness among, and mobilize the black community. February 7, 2016, marks the 16th anniversary of NBHAAD. This year’s theme—“I Am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS!”—accentuates that we all can do our part in HIV prevention.

In this blog, I will discuss HIV/AIDS in the African American community, its high impact, and ways to prevent HIV and manage HIV/AIDS.

 

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Source: Wilson P, Wright K, Isbell, MT; Black AIDS Institute. What if Black America was a country unto itself? August 2008. Accessed February 8, 2016, from http://www.thebody.com/content/art48180.html.

The Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS in Black America

An estimated 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV and 50,000 are newly diagnosed each year, with one in seven people unaware that they are infected. However, these statistics do not tell the whole story. HIV/AIDS is not uniformly distributed across ages, races, regions, and genders. African Americans account for approximately 46 percent of all cases of HIV and represent 43 percent of the total population living with HIV in the United States. Black women account for more than half (63 percent) of all HIV infections among women. Black men who have sex with men (MSM) are the most disproportionately affected group to date, with young MSM between the ages of 13 to 24 carrying the most severe burden.

Source: AVERT. HIV and AIDS in the United States of America (USA). Accessed February 8, 2016, from http://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/western-central-europe-north-america/usa.

The High Impact of HIV/AIDS in Black Communities

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic today is a black disease,” said Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. “Black Americans get diagnosed later than other racial ethnic groups and die sooner.”

Source: Schumaker E, Melnick M. Why getting tested for HIV could help your whole community. HuffPost Healthy Living. Accessed February 8, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/24/american-hiv-rate-disparities_n_7638570.html.

The once tumultuous AIDS epidemic has become a silent epidemic. When many think about HIV/AIDS, they now picture sub-Saharan Africa and forget about the epidemic here in the United States, which still makes this disease a major threat. Despite popular belief, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is still a crisis in our country, especially among African Americans, and is clustered mainly around the South and Northeast regions, in counties and cities heavily populated by African Americans, where household income is low and resources are scarce. Due in part that the disease spread is contained in these poorer areas, policymakers, clinicians, and grant-giving institutions are unaware of how rampant this virus is running. Specifically in the South and in black communities, HIV is still highly stigmatized and getting tested for HIV is not routine. Without testing data, private and public funding and support for the HIV continuum of care is not properly allocated. Consequently, the black community relies on support and resources from mainly nonprofit organizations, which are typically underfunded, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community. This impacts linkage  and retention of HIV-infected individuals in care. Blacks have historically been discriminated against in health care and discouraged from seeking treatment, which has resulted in a much quicker progression to AIDS and death. Hospital closings, lack of public transportation, high rates of uninsured people, lack of assistance navigating insurance issues, lack of needle exchange programs, and lack of awareness and education are additional barriers that contribute to the spread of HIV among black Americans. To combat these drivers of the epidemic, I encourage social and behavioral change as well as increased funding and resources allocated toward HIV in Black America.

“Where you live and the color of your skin is going to influence whether you survive HIV.” —Amy Nunn

Source: Schumaker E, Melnick M. Why getting tested for HIV could help your whole community. HuffPost Healthy Living. Accessed February 8, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/24/american-hiv-rate-disparities_n_7638570.html.

 

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Source: AIDSVu. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2015. Accessed February 8, 2016, from http://aidsvu.org/resources/national-black-hivaids-awareness-day-2015/.

What can you do?

In 1985, AIDS was viewed as an automatic and horrendous death sentence to any person infected with HIV. Many Americans feared that this growing, apocalyptic epidemic would wipe out humankind. Today, although there is still no cure for AIDS or HIV, prevention vaccine, education, antiretroviral therapy, treatment as prevention, and other aggressive actions are stemming the spread of the disease. To decrease the spread of HIV:

  • Do not have unprotected sex. Condoms always should be used during sexual activity if you or your partner are unaware of your HIV status.
  • Do not share needles. It is imperative for all injection drug users to use clean needles. In some states, local pharmacies offer free needle exchange programs.
  • Do not breastfeed if you are an HIV-infected mother. HIV is transmissible through breast milk. Furthermore, the virus is more prone to spread to the baby if the mother is not taking antiretroviral medication.
  • Get tested. Knowing your HIV status has been shown to reduce the likelihood of having unprotected sex and thereby spreading the virus.
  • Take medication. HIV-positive persons also play a role in HIV prevention, as well as reducing AIDS-related mortality. Adhering to medication regimens can reduce the HIV viral load to an undetectable level, which can significantly decrease HIV transmission. In addition, taking medication reduces the chance of HIV becoming resistant to certain antiretroviral drugs and becoming untreatable, converting to AIDS, or leading to death.

“Drugs don’t work if people don’t take them.” —C. Everett Koop, 13th Surgeon General of the United States

Source: Osterberg L, Blaschke T. Adherence to medication. New England Journal of Medicine. 2005;353:487-489. Abstract.

  • It’s better to be safe than sorry. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a new HIV prevention option for HIV-negative persons. If you are engaging in risky sexual behaviors with HIV-infected persons or social groups that are at high risk for contracting HIV (e.g., sex workers, injection drug users, MSM), taking antiretroviral medications when uninfected with HIV can reduce your chances of contracting the virus by more than 90 percent. In addition, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can be taken immediately after sharing a needle or engaging in sexual activity with someone who is HIV-positive or in cases of rape.
  • De-stigmatize HIV. We all can help reduce stigma, fear, and discrimination related to HIV/AIDS. This will change HIV/AIDS from being a secret, embarrassing infectious disease to an openly discussed, treatable, chronic illness. Consequently, people will be more cognizant of HIV, practice safe sex, get tested, and, if infected, seek and retain treatment.
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Source: AIDSVu. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2015. Accessed February 8, 2016, from http://aidsvu.org/resources/national-black-hivaids-awareness-day-2015/.

For more information, you can visit National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day webpages:

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