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We All Have Important Roles to Play: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

By Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H

February 2, 2011

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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:

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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:

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.




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