March 16, 2009
Today's report in the Washington Post that 4% of Black residents in Washington D.C. -- and 7% of Black men -- have tested HIV-positive underscores the degree to which America has lost its way in the fight against AIDS.
"The AIDS epidemic in Washington DC is an unmitigated disaster and a national disgrace," said Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute.
In the capital of the world's richest and most powerful country, HIV prevalence is higher than in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. HIV prevalence among Black men in Washington is 40% higher than in sub-Saharan Africa generally. Infection levels among all Blacks in the District of Columbia are higher than in 28 African countries.
Shockingly, these statistics likely understate the extent of HIV infection in Washington D.C., as they include only people who have tested HIV-positive.
For years, the Black AIDS Institute has been urging our country's leaders to pay attention to the frightening growth of HIV infection in Black America. To date, these calls have not been heeded. In 2008, only 4 cents out of every dollar spent on HIV by the federal government supported HIV prevention activities.
President Obama's economic stimulus package is designed to breathe life into a moribund economy. The Black AIDS Institute is calling on the President and the congress to allocate dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund HIV testing and prevention efforts in Black America. "If there were ever shovel ready projects that would create jobs and save lives this is it," says Wilson. "America urgently needs an AIDS stimulus to awaken it from its lethargic response to an epidemic that is spiraling out of control."
Congress should immediately increase funding to cost-effective programs that promote HIV testing, prevent new HIV infections, and link people who test HIV-positive to life-saving medical care. The federal government should implement a massive new social marketing initiative to make knowing one's HIV status a basic social norm in Black communities. And federal leaders must provide robust support to build capacity in Black organizations to help lead this fight.
The statistics released by the District constitute a failing grade on the nation's AIDS report card:
What is happening in Washington is also happening elsewhere. HIV prevalence exceeds 5% in nine different zip codes in Detroit. In New York City's Manhattan borough, 17% of Black middle-aged men are living with HIV -- a level of infection that approaches national HIV prevalence in South Africa, the country with the largest number of HIV-infected people in the world. Last year, the CDC reported that the annual rate of new HIV infections was roughly 40% greater than previously believed and that Black people account for nearly one out of two new infections.
In earlier years, an effective response to AIDS in Black America was hindered by low levels of community awareness and commitment to the fight. This is no longer the case. Fourteen leading national Black organizations have joined with the Black AIDS Institute and its partners to implement a national AIDS action strategy and to commit specific, tangible, and trackable resources to AIDS activities. Unfortunately, these organizations have lacked a partner in the federal government for the last eight years.
Over the last eight years, funding for HIV prevention and the crucial federal Minority AIDS Initiative has declined in real terms. The results are all too evident in the shocking figures released by the District's HIV/AIDS Administration.