George's LGBTea: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Today marks the 18th celebration of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, an event created with efforts on mobilization of testing and treatment in black communities both domestic and foreign. Ironically enough, this days happens to fall on the birthday of former President Ronald Reagan, a denier who for many years refused to acknowledge the virus until it became a global epidemic, killing millions across the world. Although HIV has become a “chronic” and manageable condition, this is not the same story for everyone, therefore increasing the importance of having these days to serve as a reminder that the epidemic has never left our community.
HIV is still a very tough topic to discuss in many black households and spaces. The virus that has taken millions of lives has left a scar on the community, one that many are unwilling to reopen. Entire communities were destroyed by the virus, both here and across the world. An entire generation of artists, poets, thinkers, and celebrities succumbed to the deadly virus, as it knew no race, gender, sex, or economic class that it could not touch.
Now, 30 years later, we have seen much progress made in terms of treatment and prevention. Although incurable, efforts have been made in science and technology allowing a one pill a day regimen to suppress the virus in the effort to attain an undetectable viral load or status. Prevention efforts across the country have helped reduce the infection in totality, yet it still remains a major problem in the black and brown communities.
The data don’t lie. According to the most recent data from the CDC:
- In 2016, 17,528 African Americans received an HIV diagnosis in the United States (12,890 men and 4,560 women).
- In 2016, African Americans accounted for 44% of HIV diagnoses, though they comprise 12% of the U.S. population.
- From 2011 to 2015, the number of HIV diagnoses among African American women fell 20%. HIV diagnoses among African American gay and bisexual men remained stable during that time.
- At the end of 2014, an estimated 471,500 African Americans were living with HIV (43% of everyone living with HIV in the U.S.), and 16% were unaware of their infection.
- Among all African Americans living with HIV in 2014, 84% had received a diagnosis, 59% received HIV medical care, 46% were retained in HIV care, and 43% had a suppressed viral load.
The epidemic has never left our community, and numbers continue to be a problem within the black LGBTQ community where they are not decreasing; and in some areas the numbers are actually increasing. In 2015, the CDC stated that 50% of men who have sex with men (MSM) would contract the virus over their lifetime at the current rate. This number came as a shock, as we continued to watch the numbers across whites decrease and even with black women decrease, yet ours remain deadly high. Although treatment is available, it is not always accessible for those who need it most, nor has our community moved to a place where we are willing to utilize healthcare resources after hundreds of years of medical discrimination and mistrust.
The year 2017 also saw an administration hell-bent on hurting over 30 years of HIV work, which many thought would never become a partisan issue. We watched the ending of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), the attempt to reduce HIV funding in the country and globally, the disbanding of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS (PACHA), and the attempt to remove words from CDC funding and writing. These attempts were clearly against marginalized and vulnerable communities who don’t have the luxury of calling the virus “chronic” when we watch people still die because of the virus.
NBHAAD is the reminder. The reminder that HIV efforts need to be specific for certain populations that continue to be overlooked. It is easy to say that HIV is now a “chronic” condition, but for those of us actively engaged in the community we serve we know that it is still very much deadly for many. Healthcare discrimination has made it a hard task to push more people into testing and learning about safer sex methods and prevention treatment like PrEP. We have a duty to ensure that those who are most affected by the virus continue to get the resources and support needed in order to stop the virus from growing in our community.
NBHAAD will come and go, but the fight for our community will continue to live on day after day. We have done the work for more than 30 years to make the virus “manageable” and “treatable,” yet that can only continue to happen if those communities can attain resources. For additional information about HIV testing, visit cdc.gov/ActAgainstAids.