"Of all races, African-Americans have the highest rates of HIV infection in the nation. Black people make up just 14 percent of the US population, yet they account for almost half of those living and dying with HIV and AIDS in this country.
"Within the black community, the face of HIV is young and old, male and female, straight and gay. It is black women in their 30s and 40s for whom AIDS is now the third-leading cause of death. It is our black youth, many of whom will become infected before their 30th birthday. It is black gay and bisexual men. Earlier this year, the CDC reported that while the number of infections that occur each year among African-Americans has remained relatively stable since the mid-1990s, the number of new HIV infections among young black gay and bisexual men under the age of 30 increased 48 percent between 2006 and 2009.
"However, the data tell only part of the story. There are also complex factors that continue to place African-Americans at greater risk of infection. We know that nearly a quarter of African-American families live in poverty, and that those who cannot afford the basics in life may end up in circumstances that increase their HIV risk. Additionally, according to the most recent national census data, about one in five black people are without health insurance.
"To many people, these statistics may be shocking. To those of us who have long been working to fight HIV, they are unacceptable.
"At the CDC, combating HIV among African-Americans is a top priority. Last year, we invested more than half of our HIV prevention budget to fight HIV among African-Americans. We also recently expanded a multimillion-dollar HIV testing initiative to reach more African-Americans. And just last month, CDC announced it is awarding $55 million to 34 community-based organizations across the country to expand HIV prevention services for young gay and bisexual men of color and transgendered youth of color. However, even with these extensive efforts under way, the CDC alone cannot turn the tide and begin to reduce the number of African-Americans infected with HIV. We must come together as a nation and as a community to confront the complex socioeconomic factors that fuel the epidemic among African-Americans.
"Each of us has a part to play in this fight. HIV infection is preventable, and we each have a personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Get the facts about HIV. Get tested. Speak out against homophobia and stigma. Everyone and every action counts. Visit www.actagainstaids.org to find out more."
The author is the director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.