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It's Time to Meaningfully Support Prevention by and for Black Communities

September 11, 2008

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data today confirming what AIDS watchdogs have been saying for years: Black gay and bisexual men and Black women are being devastated by HIV/AIDS. That ugly reality is now indisputable. But what's just as clear is that resources currently dedicated to changing that reality are woefully inadequate and not targeted at the heart of the problem.

A mobilization to end AIDS in Black communities has exploded in recent years. People from every corner of our community are getting involved-gay and straight, male and female, churches and civil rights groups, business people and celebrities, college students and community organizers. It is now crucial that policymakers at both the federal and local level finally join the fight.

"We're told the CDC's new data is the result of breakthrough technology," said Black AIDS Institute CEO Phill Wilson. "The question now is, where is the breakthrough urgency? We know the problem. So what are we going to do about it? Where are the federal resources to support Black people in saving our community?"


The New Data

Today's study follows the CDC's August announcement that the domestic AIDS epidemic is 40 percent larger than we have previously believed. Using new technology that pinpoints how long a person has been infected, CDC researchers determined in that earlier study that roughly 56,300 people were newly infected in 2006.

Forty-five percent of those newly infected were African American and more than half of them were gay and bisexual men.

Today's study drills down on the broad numbers released in August and finds:

  • Blacks bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic in America. The number of new HIV infections among Blacks was 1.6 times the number in whites.
  • Blacks carry the bulk of the epidemic among women. While men accounted for two-thirds of new infections among Blacks, the infection rate among Black women is 15 times higher than among their white counterparts. High-risk heterosexual contact accounted for 80 percent of new infections among Black women.
  • Black gay and bisexual men under 30 are hardest hit. Black "men who have sex with men" between the ages of 13 and 29 had infection rates roughly twice that of their white and Latino counterparts. This group had the highest number of infections of any other subset of gay and bisexual men.

America's Prevention Failure

CDC acknowledged in releasing today's study that the information, while more detailed than ever before, confirms what we have long known. It also confirms that our investment in stopping the epidemic in Black America is sadly inadequate. Shockingly, a separate CDC analysis found that 80 percent of gay and bisexual men in 15 cities had not been reached by the agency's HIV prevention campaigns.

"The CDC's inability to reach four out of five gay and bisexual men with proven prevention efforts should surprise no one, given the paltry resources Congress budgets for that work and the absence of a national AIDS strategy," said Wilson. "If you fail to invest in solving the problem and you don't have a comprehensive strategy, in what universe can you expect to succeed?"

According to the CDC, its HIV prevention budget lost 17 percent of its purchasing power between 2001 and 2006. That means the current budget would need to be at least $1.3 billion to make up the loss and meet the new needs, according to a 2007 study conducted by a Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher. Sadly, the agency's fiscal year 2007 HIV prevention budget was about half that figure.

Nor is CDC spending its prevention money wisely. Only two of the 18 prevention campaigns the agency has developed and trained community partners in carrying out were developed by and for Black gay and bisexual men.

"Black people account for well over half of the U.S. epidemic. Yet, we continue to be an afterthought when it comes to HIV prevention. Unless we are explicitly included, we are implicitly excluded. You cannot reach our community with programs developed by other communities, for other communities," said Wilson.

A Community Ready to Act

Black America, meanwhile, is springing into action. For years, observers have rightly criticized Black leaders at all levels for ignoring the building AIDS crisis. But that day is behind us.

Dozens of traditional Black organizations representing all parts of our community have signed on to the Black AIDS Mobilization. Each organization has committed to make ending HIV/AIDS a regular part of its broader work. Similarly, CDC has secured pledges from over 200 Black community leaders to join the fight against HIV.

But where will the massive resources required for all of this work come from? In part, they will and must come from within our own community. But any public or private funder genuinely concerned about ending the epidemic must also support the crucial work these Black community organizations and leaders are doing.

"We've talked about it, we've researched it, and now we've settled it: AIDS in America is a Black disease," said Wilson. "Now it's time to start acting to change that fact. We've all got to take responsibility- as individuals, as organizations and as a community. But so does government. It's long past time for Washington to get serious about ending this epidemic and adequately fund HIV prevention developed by and for Black people."

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This article was provided by The Black AIDS Institute. Visit Black AIDS Institute's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
African-American HIV/AIDS Resource Center: Newsroom