July 23, 2012
HIV/AIDS will pass into history when current scientific breakthroughs are delivered to scale rapidly, effectively and efficiently to our friends, our loved ones, and our communities at large.
We're getting closer, but we're not close enough.
As the world gathers in Washington this week to asses where we are in the fight against AIDS, there's a lot to be excited about. In the last four years we've learned of the extremely powerful preventive effect of treatment for people living with HIV (a true win-win); efficacy of oral use of AIDS drugs for prevention has been proven and approved by the FDA; a sound proof-of-concept was established for a topical microbicide gel for prevention; HIV therapies are keeping people healthy for a very long time; and promising new developments continue in the quests for a cure and a vaccine.
But it is only through the conscious collaboration of elected officials and scientists, medical professionals and community leaders that we will finally achieve an end to HIV/AIDS. And only if we act now.
In no industrialized nation is the impact of HIV/AIDS more keenly felt than in the United States. Annual new infections have not decreased from around 50,000 each of the past 10 years. Twenty percent of American's living with HIV don't even know it-a key driver of the epidemic. Only 1 in 5 Americans with HIV is reaping the full benefits of treatment. And there remains persistent political challenges to the implementation of highly effective interventions like syringe exchange programs.
As we start the 2012 International AIDS Conference, we must acknowledge the continuing disproportionate burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black communities in the United States. Black people are half of all people living with, becoming infected with, and dying from HIV/AIDS. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 16 black men and 1 in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection in their lifetimes.
Black Americans, Latinos and other people of color account for nearly 70% of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. AIDS in America is a Black, and Brown, disease-and that is completely unacceptable.
The Black AIDS Institute's mission is to end the AIDS epidemic in Black America. That is in part because o group in the in the United States is more impacted by HIV than Black people. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, most Black Americans know someone living with HIV/AIDS. For many of us, that person is a close family member.
These racial disparities also exist in the medical care that HIV/AIDS-positive Black men and women receive. They are typically diagnosed at later stages of the disease, and have less access to life-saving treatments.
The good news is that the International AIDS conference will shine a much-needed spotlight on America's epidemic. And Black leaders and community advocates are stepping up to speak out. Black Americans are involved in major speaking opportunities at the Conference: At the opening ceremony, a Black minister from Chicago, Rev. Charles Straight, will deliver the opening invocation, Congresswoman Barbara Lee from Oakland will speak. As President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, Phill Wilson will speak at the opening plenary about ending America's AIDS epidemic. On Wednesday Linda Scruggs, a Black woman living with HIV, will deliver the plenary address on women and AIDS. On Thursday a Black transgender woman living with HIV, Debbie McMillan, will speak about HIV and among people who use drugs. We are taking our place on the podium to deliver the message of hope, but only if we accept responsibility and act on it. And beyond the high-profile roles, thousands of Black Americans will be participating in the conference in various ways, in an effort to bring the science and energy of AIDS 2012 back to their home communities.
The Black AIDS Institute's motto is, "Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution." It is incumbent upon Black Americans from all over to seize the opportunity. For some that means organizing a post-conference hub in their hometown. For others that means learning what is working in other places so as to enhance local advocacy efforts. For some, that may mean using the news coverage as entrée to talk with their children, relatives and loved ones about HIV and how to stay safe. And for our leaders, it must mean increased accountability, increased fiscal support, and a renewed commitment to achieving the goals of President Obama's National HIV/AIDS Strategy. To plug in with the Black AIDS Institute at AIDS 2012 or to connect with one of our many post-conference activities, please visit www.blackaids.org/aids2012.