July 25, 2012
The number of new HIV infections in the United States has remained relatively stable at approximately 50,000 per year between 2006 and 2009, according to 2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But seroconversions have been soaring among Black men who have sex with men, particularly among those ages 13 to 19, the CDC reports.
New infections increased by 48 percent between 2006 and 2009.
"It's essentially the only demographic where this is happening," said Gregorio Millett, M.P.H., the CDC and Department of Health and Human Service's liaison to the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. "The epidemic is out of control, and we need to help these men. Thankfully, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) is addressing this sub-population."
Millett, who was one of the key players who helped develop the NHAS, says that he is "confident" in the strategy's success thus far, including in reaching Black gay men.
"In many ways Americans feel somewhat divorced from HIV/AIDS," says Millett. "Part of the reason is because the government has done a terrific job responding to the horrific rates of HIV/AIDS in many other regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa. That's part of the reason why President Obama released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy two years ago," he adds.
The four-part plan refocuses resources on the domestic epidemic and prioritizes Black Americans, who represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population but about 44 percent (pdf) of new HIV infections. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our report on the NHAS.
"Black gay and bisexual men are believed to represent less than 1 percent of the nation's population, but we represent an estimated one-quarter of all new infections every year. That's quite alarming," says Millett. "Black gay and bisexual men also disproportionately seroconvert at much younger ages compared to other gay men."
In the nation's capital -- and the conference's host -- the 3.2 percent HIV-prevalence rate remains the highest in the country -- "higher than West Africa and on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya," reported the Washington Post. But for the first time in years, the number of new AIDS cases is declining.
"In Southeast D.C. and in DuPont Circle, infections are much higher compared to other neighborhoods in the metropolitan area," Millett says, referring to predominantly Black and gay areas. "The conference serves as a reminder of the successes and the opportunities that we face on the domestic front."
The NHAS is responding to the epidemic among Black MSM in key areas. "The first that comes to mind is the Testing Makes Us Stronger campaign," launched in 2011, says Millett. "This is landmark because there has never been a federal campaign to target Black gay and bisexual men in this way." The program includes transit, magazine and online advertising -- and outreach across Facebook, Twitter, blogs and "hookup" websites popular with Black MSM.
The NHAS is also trying to increase the number of Black MSM in continuous care.
The CDC is expanding its National HIV Behavioral Surveillance survey of people at high risk for HIV, including MSM in 21 localities, that was previously undertaken only every three years. "Now it will be done online and every year," says Millett. There are also new interventions for funding community organizations that target Black gay and bisexual men for testing and linkage to care.
"In many ways we are at a turning point for the epidemic," says Millett. "It is conceivable that we could end HIV/AIDS domestically and internationally. There seems to be a collective will going into AIDS 2012 that we can have an AIDS-free generation. It's an incredible feeling because so many of us never thought we could picture this."
Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his reporting and analysis have appeared in Ebony, The Advocate, ColorLines, The Body and other media. McCollum blogs on politics, pop culture and Black gay news at rod20.com