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African Americans Stand to Lose From the War on Contraception

By Gary Bell

March 26, 2012

According to Webster's Dictionary, "Contraception" is defined as the deliberate prevention of conception or impregnation by any of various drugs, techniques, or devices or; birth control. However, with the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections, many people tend to incorporate their contraceptive and sexual health prevention methods under a concept of risk reduction.

There are at least 25 know sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and infect about 15 million people annually. As the debate rages about the need for and availability of contraception, we in the African American community should understand the huge stake that we have in this discussion.

African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV. We represent ½ of the new HIV infections, those living with HIV and those who succumb to it each year in the United States. We also have higher rates for other STIs. We represent 50% of the 2.8 million new Chlamydia infections and our infection rates for Gonorrhea and Syphilis are 16 and 23 times those of whites respectively. Nowhere is this impact greatest than in young people, especially young women. A recent CDC study estimated that 48% of black adolescent girls in the United States had at least one STI. Moreover, many are unaware of it. Teenage pregnancy rates have risen to 42 births per 1000 females. Programs such a Planned Parenthood which offer free or low cost contraception services also provide comprehensive risk reduction services as well, services that are desperately needed in our community.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, teen pregnancy and out of wedlock births are one of the major causes of infant mortality and are often cited as helping to keep the US infant mortality rates higher than in many industrialized countries.

Many studies point to the impact of poverty in exacerbating these rates. The latest recession has had a devastating impact of black people. Unemployment rates have risen as high as 15.9% (26.4 in youth). We have seen a significant decline in home ownership, and median household income. Poverty rates for blacks are double those for whites. And Africans Americans have consistently lower levels of health care than do whites.

In closing, African Americans definitely have a 'dog in this fight.' We cannot afford the impact of more unplanned pregnancies to more young women let alone the physical and economic hardship caused by sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV. We can and we must demand more, not less, ownership in our own sexual health.

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See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
More HIV Policy Issues Affecting the African-American Community

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Transition to Hope

This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.

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