7. Prevention: Let's Talk About Sex
Most experts agree that HIV prevention efforts for African Americans are woefully lacking in both quantity and quality. "We have not adequately educated ourselves and each other about this disease, nor have we identified effective ways to empower individuals to change their sexual practices to protect themselves from HIV infection," says U.S. Senator Barack Obama. He considers fixing prevention to be the most critical AIDS issue facing the African-American community.
Carlos Velez, formerly of the National Minority AIDS Council, says that, for one thing, prevention initiatives aren't being sufficiently targeted to at-risk populations. "You don't see prevention and education activities in the African-American community being devoted to the MSMs [men who have sex with men] who need them," he says. "The same with injection drug users, sex-industry workers and so on."
While AIDS advocates disagree about the best way to reach African Americans, most agree on how not to: a one-size-fits-all prevention strategy targeted to everyone, no matter what they're doing to make themselves vulnerable to HIV. This approach gets a universal thumbs-down, as does an abstinence-only approach to black youth, many of whom are already sexually active by the time such programs reach them.
It may surprise some anti-Bush AIDS advocates to hear how articulate Dr. Louis Sullivan, former co-chair of Bush Sr.'s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, is on the dangers of politicizing HIV prevention: "The politics comes from the forces that are saying it should be one thing or the other," he explains. "Talking about HIV/AIDS is already caught up in enough shame and blame without turning it into a political debate."
Sullivan also noted that he saw progress on the horizon in other areas of HIV prevention, most notably "the science of prevention -- [specifically] the development of microbicides and other technologies that will offer women an alternative to condoms."
What you can do: First, know your status and your partner's status, and reduce your HIV risk as much as you can as often as you can. Second, become a prevention activist: Hand out condoms, clean needles and harm-reduction information by volunteering at your local HIV/AIDS organization. Third, consider attending -- or attending to -- the National Minority AIDS Council's HIV Prevention Leadership Summit 2008. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-483-6622 x343.