December 1 is World AIDS Day!
In 2012, the United Nations stated that it’s possible to eradicate the disease by 2015 — in part, of course, by preventing new infections.
But, much of the focus was, and still is, on developing countries, and not in hot spots like the nation’s capital, which is one of the hardest hit areas battling the epidemic.
Teenage girls in the African-American community are an especially at-risk population. Seventeen percent of the U.S. teen population is African American, but shockingly, 70 percent of HIV-positive teens are African American. And one in 10 African-American teenage girls test HIV-positive in the nation’s capital, the highest percentage in the country among this age group.
When asked why such a high percentage test positive, Sheila Johnson, founder of the Crump-Johnson Foundation in Washington D.C said, “As long as girls see themselves as glorified sex objects in hip-hop videos, HIV/AIDS will increase within this population.” Sadly, in 2015 little has changed within this demographic group.
With African-Americans being infected with the AIDS virus at younger and younger ages, the life expectancy rate of African-Americans will decline. Soon we will no longer expect today’s young African-Americans to become the elders of the community.
With the South’s propensity to avoid speaking about uncomfortable subjects, it has unfortunately evolved into one of the HIV/AIDS hot spots in the country. So too, are prisons. HIV/AIDS among Black male inmates is five times the rate of the general population and transmitted primarily through male-to-male sex or tattooing.
To date, more than a quarter of African-Americans have died of AIDS. And, it’s the leading cause of death among African-American women between the ages of 25–34 and African-American men between the ages of 35–44.
Although African-Americans comprise of now nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population, we tragically account for approximately 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. But this data doesn’t reflect the wave of recent African diasporic immigrants of the last decade coming from the Caribbean Islands and the Motherland. This demographic group is overwhelmingly underreported and underserved—for fear of not only deportation but also of homophobic insults and assaults from their communities.
The good news is that HIV infections among African-American women in Massachusetts has decreased for the first time. This decline in numbers has much to do with the indefatigable outreach by local organizations like AIDS Action Committee which operates each year on a diminishing state -funded grant.
According to the Black AIDS Institute’s August 2008 report titled “Left Behind”, the number of people living with HIV in black America exceeds the HIV population in seven of the fifteen focus countries in the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative. This initiative aims to help to save the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world in countries like Haiti, Dominican Republic, India, and South Africa, to name a few.
In other words, if black America were its own country, standing on its own like Haiti or Nigeria, black Americans would rate 16th in the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Urban enclaves like Detroit, New York, Newark, Washington, D.C and the Deep South see the heaviest concentration of this epidemic.
There are many persistent social and economic factors contributing to the high rates of the epidemic in the African-American community: racism, poverty, health care disparity and violence, among others. And while we know that the epidemic moves along the fault lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation, and that HIV transmission is tied to specific high-risk behaviors that are not exclusive to any one sexual orientation, homophobia still continues to be one of the major barriers to ending the AIDS epidemic.
The fact that anyone can contract the virus has been highlighted by famous HIV-positive heterosexual African-Americans like tennis great Arthur Ashe, news anchorman Max Robinson, and rapper Eazy-E, who all died of AIDS, and basketball giant Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who is still living with the virus. Yet many still see the epidemic as a “white gay disease,” suggesting being gay or having sex with someone of the same gender puts you immediately at high risk.
But the truth is this: while over 600,000 African Americans are now living with HIV, with as many 30,000 newly infected each year, there are still at least one in five people within the black community who are living with HIV and unaware of their infection; they are disproportionately heterosexuals.
Although the number of cases across the globe continues to decline, leading to the possibility of eradication as the U.N hopefully predicts, we as African-Americans cannot protect ourselves from this epidemic as long as we continue to think of HIV/AIDS as a “white gay disease.”