As we approach the 11th annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) on February 7th, we are reminded that the impact of HIV is greater among Blacks than any other racial/ethnic group in the United States. African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population; but 46 percent of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States are Black (that's more than 500,000 African Americans living with HIV in the U.S. today). For more information visit the CDC's page about HIV/AIDS among African Americans.
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) observes that the continued severity of the epidemic among Blacks underscores the need to sustain and accelerate prevention efforts in this population. Although race itself is not a risk factor for HIV infection, a range of issues contributes to the disproportionate HIV risk for Blacks in the United States, including poverty, stigma, higher rates of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), drug use, and poor access to health care.
The NHAS calls for re-focusing our efforts in communities where HIV is concentrated, where we can have the biggest impact in lowering all communities' collective risk of acquiring HIV. Among the Federal activities underway in support of the Strategy are:
- Efforts to ensure that Federal grant resources awarded to State and local health departments and community-based organizations are allocated based on the epidemiological profile within those jurisdictions and serve the high-risk populations bearing the heaviest burdens of HIV locally.
- An inventory and assessment of all effective Federal programs and initiatives for reducing HIV infections among Black Americans.
- HHS-wide efforts, involving CDC, CMS, HRSA, IHS, SAMHSA, and NIH, to facilitate the development of enhanced comprehensive HIV prevention plans and responses in 12 cities most affected by the HIV epidemic in order to reduce HIV risk and incidence in those areas and foster better linkages to care and supportive services. These cities represent more than 40% of all Americans living with AIDS as well as many communities with large African American populations.
The NHAS also charges us to better coordinate our efforts across the Federal government as well as among State and local players so that we are optimizing our limited resources for greatest impact. At the Federal level, we are examining new opportunities to collaborate to promote awareness of one's HIV status and link HIV-positive individuals into continuous care and treatment. Here at the Department of Health and Human Services, we are also collaborating with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Commerce, Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration to address several cross-cutting issues that fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly in disproportionately impacted communities. These issues include housing insecurity and homelessness, access to substance abuse treatment, and strengthening discharge planning to link HIV-positive persons to appropriate services upon release from incarceration in order to reduce interruptions in HIV treatment.
But these efforts alone won't fully address the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS among African Americans in the United States. The theme of this year's NBHAAD observance -- "It Takes a Village to Fight HIV/AIDS" -- echoes the President's observation in releasing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy that the Federal government cannot do this alone, that we all have important roles to play in reducing new infections, improving access to treatment, and reducing HIV-related health disparities. This includes both individuals and organizations, particularly those in communities heavily impacted by HIV. Each of us can get educated, get tested, get involved, and, if needed, get treated.
There are many ways to get involved. Consider whether any of these opportunities might be right for you as we mark the 2011 observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day:
- Get screened for HIV and/or encourage a friend or loved one to get screened. Finding out your status early makes a big difference. Individuals who are tested early in their infection can access life-extending treatment and take steps to prevent spreading the infection to others. Get tested if you have never been tested. Even if you have been tested before, consider getting tested again if you have identified risk factors such as a past or current history of a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea or syphilis, having unprotected sex (having sex without using a condom), especially with more than one partner, or sharing needles and syringes to inject drugs. Find a testing site near you.
- Read the Strategy (PDF 1.37MB), its companion Federal Implementation Plan (PDF 723KB), and related information available online AIDS.gov.
- Talk about AIDS in America and your community. Inform others about HIV in the U.S., particularly among African Americans, and about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Encourage their engagement in activities that help achieve the Strategy's goals. You can access downloadable documents to print and share as well as e-tools like badges and widgets here.
- Follow updates on the Strategy here on the AIDS.gov blog which features posts from the White House's Office of National AIDS Policy, HHS officials, and others. You can also embed the NHAS Blog Widget on your site to share this information with your readers.
- Discuss what your agency or organization can do in new or different ways to better serve your constituents and align your efforts with the Strategy.
- Participate in state and local discussions about how HIV prevention, care and treatment efforts can be fine-tuned to better serve vulnerable populations and contribute to realizing the Strategy's goals.
- Engage new partners in HIV prevention, care, treatment and stigma-reduction activities to strengthen our collective efforts and reach more people.
What will you do to face HIV/AIDS in the African American community this year? Share your commitment and encourage others in the comments section below.
Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H, is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.