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A Publication of the Harvard AIDS Institute

The Campaign Launch

October 22, 1996

Despite the fact that the progression of HIV into communities of color has been known for years, funding for HIV prevention and AIDS care within these communities lags far behind what the infection rates warrant. Governments at all levels, African American leaders, and foundations must provide the critical leadership required to close this gap.

A key strategy of the Leading for Life campaign is to develop programs that will have a sustained impact on the epidemic in communities of color. To help ensure speed and efficacy, the Leading for Life organizers are focused on building upon efforts already in place and working with organizations that have proven track records in African American communities.

In planning the campaign, the organizers have spoken with hundreds of local and national leaders, health care professionals, and AIDS activists, all of whom have recommended building local leadership and support -- medical and financial -- for defeating the HIV epidemic in African American communities. These efforts will create an infrastructure capable of providing the full range of care for the vast numbers of people who are affected by HIV.

Since the meeting, the organizers have focused on promoting media coverage of both the summit and the AIDS crisis among African Americans. Through coverage in broadcast and print media to date, the Leading for Life campaign has reached audiences nationwide with its call to address the disproportionate impact of AIDS on African Americans. The Leading for Life organizers will continue to meet with funders to challenge them to support AIDS services and programs that specifically target African American communities. Since the summit, for example, funding has been secured for the National Medical Association to conduct the first-ever AIDS clinical trials within the African American community.

The highest HIV infection rates among African Americans are primarily in cities and counties represented by African American members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and people in those areas need strong voices speaking up for them. Summit organizers -- especially the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) -- are lobbying the Congressional Black Caucus to take a leadership role in AIDS public policy. The Caucus has already agreed to hold a series of town meetings on AIDS. Leading for Life organizers are also urging the Caucus to endorse needle exchange programs, which have consistently been shown to prevent transmission of HIV. NMAC also plans to create a fellowship position that will focus on increasing the African American community's response to AIDS through better education efforts of its leaders. This fellow will encourage leaders to lobby for AIDS policy in coordination with organizations such as the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the National Council of Negro Women.

In addition, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute plans to appoint a fellow who will conduct original research on the AIDS crisis. This yearlong fellowship will give the researcher an opportunity to examine AIDS in African American communities, to determine what has happened thus far, and to propose solutions.

Another Leading for Life organizer, the Balm in Gilead, has obtained funding to hold several two-day conferences in communities around the nation to address AIDS and other critical health issues. The Balm in Gilead is also seeking a partnership with church leaders and disease prevention experts to develop an age-appropriate Sunday school curriculum on AIDS. Although these two endeavors are just a start in this campaign for action, they are critical.

The Harvard AIDS Institute will issue an update of a report initially published in 1992 by the National Commission on AIDS (NCOA) entitled The Challenge of HIV/AIDS in Communities of Color. This update will focus on the past five years of the epidemic and review the responsiveness of federal, private sector, and community-based organizations to the original recommendations of the NCOA.

Another key program in this campaign is the Arthur Ashe Program in AIDS Care for fourth-year medical students. The Harvard AIDS Institute, National Medical Fellowships, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation will sponsor this fellowship, which begins in the fall of 1997. This four-week, multidisciplinary training program will answer the pressing need for AIDS care education and training among minority physicians. This program will provide medical students with essential AIDS-related clinical skills, which could translate into a longer life for their AIDS patients, since studies have shown that patients whose physicians understand AIDS care issues live longer than those whose physicians are less familiar with the disease.

The Harvard AIDS Institute has been working with the University of California, San Francisco's Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) to evaluate HIV prevention programs directed at adolescents. Two documents recently published jointly by these two organizations -- Dangerous Inhibitions: How America Is Letting AIDS Become an Epidemic of the Young and Listen to What America's Kids Are Saying, an analysis of personal interviews with adolescents about sexuality -- show the urgent need to address the spread of HIV among young people, especially young people of color.

Working in conjunction with the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, Leading for Life organizers will cosponsor an international conference on health care resource allocation for AIDS. A major focus of the conference will be the United States' responsibility and moral obligation to Africa to ensure fair access to life-saving drugs and resources for prevention efforts.

Finally, Leading for Life organizers have hired an outreach coordinator who will enlist the support of leaders nationwide to raise awareness in communities of color and to encourage others to join in the effort to defeat AIDS.

These programs will only succeed with commitment and funding. The support of foundations, corporations, governments, and individuals is critically needed to accomplish the goals of stopping the spread of HIV among African Americans and of caring for those already infected. We urge you to make a personal commitment to become involved and to take action, for we cannot risk losing future generations of African Americans to AIDS.

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This article was provided by Harvard AIDS Institute. It is a part of the publication Leading for Life: The AIDS Crisis Among African Americans.