by Nisa Islam Muhammad
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)—Sex is illegal in jail so while prison
authorities bury their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist,
America’s penal institutions are "reservoirs for infection," according
to presenters at the recent 2002 National Conference on
African-Americans and AIDS.
"Eighty-three percent of prisoners in New York are Black and Latino.
Seventy-three percent of them come from the seven neighborhoods with the
highest HIV rates," explained Robert Fullilove III, Ed.D associate dean
of Community and Minority Affairs at Columbia University.
Leading healthcare, government and community leaders called for a
renewed focus on the rising HIV infection rate in the Black community.
They called for programs that enhance clinical care for Blacks with
HIV/AIDS and increased awareness among clinicians, patients and
caregivers about AIDS-related issues.
"Prisons are amplification centers for HIV transmission. These men
don’t identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual. They leave jail and
go home to unsuspecting women," said Mr. Fullilove.
The issue is compounded, he argued, because the average American does
not want to acknowledge the facts about sex and drug use.
The most recent figures available from federal Centers for Disease
Control (CDC) show Blacks make up 38 percent of all total reported U.S.
AIDS cases even though they represent just 13 percent of the population.
Delegates attending the only conference in America focusing on the
epidemic within this community, also heard the rising rates of HIV/AIDS
cases among Blacks.
According to CDC figures, in the year 2000, the last year for which
full figures are available, there were 71,920 new HIV infections in
Blacks, up from 64,299 in 1999, an increase of almost 12 percent.
As a percentage of new AIDS cases, Blacks made up 48 percent in the
year 2000, compared to 37 percent in 1999.
Commenting on these figures, Scott Evertz, director of the White
House Office on National AIDS Policy, said, "The number of individuals
living with HIV/AIDS in the African American community continues to
increase at alarming rates."
"We’re dealing with a disease bounded by poverty and communities
affected by poverty. We have to do things differently to combat this
disease. We’ve done a good job in certain pockets but we’re failing in
others," he said.
The numbers for HIV/AIDS have dropped significantly in the gay
community after a massive infusion of government funds, and nation wide
publicity coupled with education.
"There is disparity in the prevalence of this disease in the African
American and Latino communities as well as the amount of money flowing
to these communities. We’re going to make sure the dollars follow the
epidemic and right now they don’t," said Mr. Evertz. "We’re not beholden
to certain groups like the Democrats were.
"We want to make sure the community organizations get the help they
need. It’s hard to argue with the statistics."
In reviewing some of the other reasons for the alarming increase in
the Black community, Mr. Fullilove said, "African Americans are less
likely to have access to healthcare and therefore more likely to
disengage themselves from the healthcare system.
"Barriers must be eliminated regarding access to healthcare, testing,
comprehensive education and prevention within the African American
population in order to close the gap in access to healthcare and the
treatment of HIV/AIDS for those who need it most," he concluded.
For women HIV/AIDS is wrecking havoc in the Black and Latino
community. Seventy-seven percent of women infected belong to these
populations. Heterosexual transmission accounts for 75 percent of female
"Women think they can tell if a man is having sex with a man," said
Dr. Celia Maxwell, director of the Women’s Health Institute at Howard
University, "but they can’t and there are increasing numbers of men
having sex with men.
"D.C. has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in women followed
by New York, New Jersey and Florida. We’re also seeing growing numbers
of women over 50 getting HIV and they’re predominantly Black. Another
fast growing rate is HIV infection in 13-15 year olds."
All of the speakers agreed that intense education, access to
services, additional research and more money are key to fighting this