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HIV/AIDS: Beyond Crisis

POSTED: September 14, 2008, 12:00 am

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Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should be a wake-up call for Black America. We have long known that this disease is devastating our community but statistics from the CDC’s HIV/AIDS surveillance system should be an awakening to the impact it is having among Black women and young Black, gay men. The CDC data is for 2006 and focuses on 22 states and the District of Columbia.

The greatest disparity between racial/ethnic minorities and whites in the rate of new infections is among females. Among females 61 percent of new infections were in Blacks, 23 percent in whites and 16 percent in Hispanics. The incidence rate among Black females was 14.7 times the rate among white females. High-risk heterosexual contact was the predominant transmission category for Black females.

Likewise young Black men, in the 13-29 year old age group, who have sex with other men (MSM), are the other flash point in the HIV/AIDS crisis in our community. Among this age group Blacks accounted for 48 percent of new infections, compared with 31 percent for whites and 21 percent for Hispanics. Overall, among men having sex with other men, the 13-29 year old age group accounted for 52 percent of new infections among Black MSM.

Quite frankly, these numbers are frightening and should be the last straw for our community. Our young men and Black women face long-term health consequences, and worst, death, if we do not act collectively as a community and address what is occurring before our very eyes. This not a “hidden crisis” as some would suggest. HIV/AIDS is devastating our community in full view of all of us. Many of us have simply chosen to ignore, or worse yet, deny what is happening out of fear, shame and ignorance. Just talk to any funeral director who services our community and they will tell you. This disease has given them a new, yet regrettable revenue stream.

It is time to sound the alarm. It is time for a different conversation. While public health officials rightly focus on data and preventive measures, it is our responsibility to drive the “family” conversation. The rate of infection among Black women suggests we need to have an honest conversation about relationships and the risk attendant to females who have unprotected sex with males who may not be honest about their sexual behavior. Likewise, young Black men who are having sex with other men must be confronted for their own survival. When we have high incidence of transmission in Black boys as young as 13 and 14, the time for polite conversation is over. This disease threatens to significantly diminish our presence in this country with young men and Black women in danger of not being able to copulate or their passing the disease on to their offspring.

All Black institutions need to make HIV/AIDS a priority. In particular the Black faith based community has a role to play. While some Black churches have become more progressive in their approach to this crisis, far too many continue to strike a moralistic pose that threatens our very survival. Many churches have been unable to come to terms with HIV/AIDS out of homophobia despite the large numbers of homosexuals, hidden or not, in congregations. The CDC data on Black women should particularly motivate the Black church into action. After all, the base of most Black congregations is women so it would seem logical for the church to address the burden their female congregants are bearing.

For Black men clearly homosexuality is a driving factor in the rate of new infections, particularly among young men in the 13-29 year old category. So long as homophobia persists in our community, more and more of our young men will be in danger. We must choose now: we can preach down or lift up. The choice is ours to make. As long as young Black, gay men are driven to seclusion and isolation we may never be able to bring HIV/AIDS under control. Further complicating things is the rate of incarceration among this age group and high risk sexual behavior behind bars.

This latest report comes at a time when we are just weeks away from electing the next President of the United States. We believe that both major party candidates, Democrat Senator Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain, must address this crisis head on. And we must not let them campaign without specifically detailing how they would confront this crisis if elected.

We are faced with a life and death dilemma in our community and it is time we treated HIV/AIDS as such.

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