AIDS: The Black Disease

By Jesse Muhammad -Staff writer- | Last updated: Dec 4, 2010 - 10:16:26 AM

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What lies ahead for treatment and prevention in 2011?

( - Every nine-and-a-half minutes, a person in the United States becomes infected with HIV and the Black community accounts for nearly half of those infected.

Going into 2011, the statistical landscape of Blacks contracting AIDS is expected to only get worse, according to national data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While Blacks represent approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 46 percent (506,000) of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, as well as 45 percent (25,335) of the 56,300 new infections every year.

These oft-repeated statistics, the lack of national funding routed towards Black-led AIDS awareness programs, and a scarcity in activism from Blacks as a whole, concerns grassroots groups, advocates, and religious leaders.

“What we need are more heterosexual men in our community to step up on the issue of AIDS. Too many of us are laboring under the illusion of this being a post-racial America while we're still being impacted the greatest in health, jobs, and education,” said Tony Wafford, the Los Angeles-based national director of a Health and Wellness for the National Action Network (NAN).

Due to a great displeasure with the federal government's proposed national AIDS strategy and what he calls a “missing cultural component to address Blacks specifically”, Mr. Wafford is spearheading the development of nationwide blueprint to fill that void.

“In theory, the national AIDS strategy is good, but it is not enough. They went all around the country gathering data but Blacks were left out of the discussion. They have used our rate of infection as the benchmark and the poster child of AIDS, yet refuse to address us specifically in the strategy,” said Mr. Wafford.

The reason for it being called the “Black disease” lies in further dismal figures from the CDC.

Approximately one in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV, as will one in 30 Black women. The rate of new HIV infections for Black men is about six times as high as that of White men, nearly three times that of Hispanic men, and more than twice that of Black women.

The HIV incidence rate for Black women is nearly 15 times as high as that of White women, and nearly four times that of Hispanic women. AIDS is the third leading cause of death among Black women aged 25 to 34 and Black men aged 35 to 44.

Thirty-eight percent of Blacks aged 13 to 29 account for nearly 25,000 infections estimated to occur on an annual basis.

“We need to get off the mindset that AIDS is a gay disease. It is 2010 and we still believe that it is a gay disease. We need to stop blaming each other and learn to work together to stop the spread of AIDS, because AIDS has hit the African American community harder than any other community,” said Hydeia Broadbent, 26, who was born HIV positive.

Ms. Broadbent contracted the immune system-destroying disease from her drug addicted biological mother. Since the age of six, she has toured the country as a speaker. She is also working as a consultant with social workers, developing programs for youth who are born with HIV/AIDS

“As an African American, people should be outraged that it's not in the news, that it's not in the media, that it's not in the schools, and that people are not learning prevention. They need to demand more programs. They need to demand more funding for prevention programs in their communities,” said Ms. Broadbent.

In response to the disproportionate epidemic, the Black AIDS Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation catapulted the Greater Than AIDS movement.

Since the Kaiser research department found that forty-four percent of Blacks named media as their number one source of education about HIV/AIDS, that's where they are concentrating their efforts. In October the latest cross-platform media tactic, called Deciding Moment, was launched as part of Greater Than AIDS as the diseases' thirty years of impact will be marked this coming June.

“As we prepare to close three decades of HIV/AIDS, this is our collectiveDeciding Momentas a people,” said Phill Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. “Black Americans have borne the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and now is the time to come together and do our part to change the course of this epidemic.”

TheDeciding Momentscampaign rolled out outdoor, print and online advertising coupled with television. Media companies such as Ebony, ESSENCE Communications, Radio One and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, are lending donated media space to support the efforts. Greater Than AIDS pushes education, open dialogue, testing, and methods of prevention.

“We needed something for Blacks and by Blacks and that's what makes this so important. It's about empowerment,” said Marvelyn Brown, 26, who serves as the ambassador of Greater Than AIDS.

Ms. Brown, who lives in New York City, contracted HIV at the age of 19 from an ex-boyfriend. Before that she only considered it a “White gay man's disease.”

“Even at that age I didn't know about AIDS. I had heard of it but didn't think I could get it. I was shocked when I found out but I didn't let it stop me, she said.

Her autobiography, Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive, contains her compelling story and she is the CEO of Marvelous Connections, a company that partners with media giants to help take young people from “HIV ignorance to education,” she said.

“I tell my peers that we must love ourselves enough to protect ourselves. Greater Than AIDS means that yes we see how bad the numbers are but that doesn't mean we have to become infected. We can prevent it. And if you're already infected, it doesn't mean it is over. We're greater than this disease. We're greater than these percentages,” said Ms. Brown.

More money needed?

In partnership with the CDC's ACT! Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, NAN has launched “I Choose Life,” a federally funded five-year national campaign that will have a major focus on education and treatment of HIV/AIDS in the Black community.

Along with HIV/AIDS, the program will address diabetes, heart disease, mental health and obesity. It will be implemented in Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

According to Mr. Wafford, the CDC awarded funds to 16 national Black organizations like NAACP, National Urban League and 100 Black Men to address HIV/AIDS. Their budget will be $120,000 per year until 2015 but Mr. Wafford says this is nowhere near the amount that White agencies get annually.

“They are giving us a few thousand dollars a year to address a billion dollar problem. They give more money to White agencies just to do research. White agencies that only hire a Black person to be the Black face of their program claiming that they are concerning about helping Black people,” said Mr. Wafford.

According to the President's FY 2011 HIV/AIDS Policy request, an estimated $27.2 billion is being asked for to be allocated domestically and globally. Over $14 billion will be for domestic treatment, over $6 billion globally and nearly $3 billion for research. The Minority AIDS Initiative, created in 1999 to address the growing impact on minorities, is projected to be allocated a mere $428 million.

Pastor Rudy Rasmus, who heads St. John's United Methodist Church in Houston, firmly believes narrow-minded leadership in the community needs to stop acting like people aren't dying and get involved.

“The Black clergy has to stop shying away from the discussion. This disease is preventable so why aren't we spreading education in our Sunday messages? I became acutely aware of the need for more knowledge and more involvement so we've opened up our church doors to address it,” said Pastor Rasmus.

For the past 16 years, he has used a grant to provide free HIV/AIDS testing to nearly 4,000 people per year at a clinic adjacent to his sanctuary in the downtown area. Every fourth Sunday, he and his wife invite the entire congregation to get tested.

More than just a day

December 1 will mark the annual World AIDS Day, wherein people organize or attend an event to raise awareness. Ms. Brown will be one of the many honorees along with Pres. Bill Clinton at the 10th Annual Heroes in the Struggle Gala in Hollywood hosted by the Magic Johnson Foundation and the Black AIDS Institute.

Dena Gray, who has been HIV positive since 1991, is coordinating Houston's participation on December 4 with the premiere of the stage play “You Better Ask Somebody.” The play highlights real life situations that can lead to contracting the virus.

“This has to be bigger than one day. The HIV discussion tends to happen only during big events then goes silent for the rest of the year. We have to reverse this because people are getting infected in our community every day,” said Ms. Gray.

Related news:

New CDC analysis reveals strong link between race, being poor and HIV infection rates (FCN, 07-30-2010)