April 4, 2005
In 2002, North Carolina initiated a method of detecting early HIV infections among those who voluntarily tested at public clinics. The effort discovered 84 newly infected male college students, 73 of whom were black. Researchers said it was the first documented HIV outbreak on U.S. college campuses.
Alabama health officials said they are devising an early detection program, but currently do not have much data on the number of HIV-infected black male college students.
Mary Morris Billings, director of Alabama A&M University's (AA&MU) counseling and development office in Huntsville, said she worries an increase like that in North Carolina could happen there, and her office has recently stepped up awareness through seminars and workshops. Montgomery's Alabama State University (ASU) is holding educational programs and provides condoms upon request. Both ASU and AA&MU offer free, confidential testing. At Troy University, the African-American Alliance and the university chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists have combined to bring in health professionals for HIV screening and education efforts.
According to researchers, the main cause of increasing HIV infections is young black men who are having unprotected sex with other men but who do not self-identify as gay or bisexual. In the North Carolina study, 67 of the black men with HIV reported sex with men, and 27 of those also had female sex partners.
Black males represent 43.8 percent of Alabama HIV infections, and sex with men was determined as the highest risk factor for contracting the virus.