Since the first observance of World AIDS Day over 30 years ago—and 40 years since the disease was discovered by physicians in 1981, African Americans are still fighting an uphill battle against the deadly disease. With societal factors such as stigma, shame, discrimination and homophobia, African Americans are at a higher risk of contracting HIV than any other racial group in the U.S. Because of these barriers many Black Americans don’t receive routine HIV testing or accessible HIV preventative care and treatments.
The CDC reports 1 in 7 African Americans living with HIV have no idea that they are infected. Without the knowledge of their HIV status, they unwittingly transmit the virus to others. When it comes to HIV/AIDS in the Black community, the struggle continues.
The KFF reported that Black Americans have been disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, and over the years, the disparity has continued to worsen. Although Black Americans make up only 12% of the U.S. population, African American are diagnosed with HIV at a larger rate (43%), are estimated to be living with HIV disease at a higher rate(42%), and comprise more deaths among people with HIV (44%) than any other racial group in the country. Also, an alarming statistic states that African American women account for 59% of new HIV diagnoses.
Virginia Fields, president, and CEO of the Harlem-based National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS argues that stakeholders in the Black community must take action by promoting prevention.
“We’ve seen gains in treatment, prevention, new science, and research – that’s the good news,” Fields said. “The other side of that is that we are seeing African-Americans being disproportionately impacted with respect to new infections."
Phill Wilson, the former president and CEO of Black AIDS Institute, has been fighting HIV/AIDS in Black communities for four decades. He argues that Black people, especially Black women have always been the most vulnerable in the global crisis.
"Now, from the earliest days, you know, Black people represented 25% of the new cases in the U.S.," Wilson said. "Even as early as then, Black women represented over 50% of women diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. So Black people were always disproportionately impacted, over-represented in disease, underrepresented in advocacy, underrepresented in resources dedicated to fighting the disease."
Wilson also contends that the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Black communities is structural and institutional.
"What we need to be doing now if we're going to be serious about either the AIDS epidemic... or fighting COVID-19, we need to be building and strengthening institutions in these communities," he explained
While we’re still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, let’s do our part to remember that HIV/AIDS is still devastating Black communities exponentially, even after World AIDS Day.
To combat this reality, we must actively commit to raising awareness to empower Black communities with knowledge and resources, continue to educate ourselves to remove the stigma of HIV/AIDS, promote safe sex practices, prevention, testing, and treatment to ensure our collective, communal health.