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African Americans Should Take More Responsibility in Fight Against HIV/AIDS, National Conference Speakers Say

March 2, 2005

African Americans should stop "pointing fingers and assigning blame" and take more responsibility in the fight against HIV/AIDS, speakers at the 2005 National Conference on African Americans and AIDS in Philadelphia said on Tuesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "In 2005, AIDS in America is mostly a black disease," Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, said, adding, "Rather than play the blame and shame game, ... we must support every segment of our community." Conference speakers also discussed the belief among some in the African-American community that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is part of a government conspiracy, an idea that might cause some people to ignore prevention messages and avoid HIV testing, according to the Inquirer (FitzGerald, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/2). According to a telephone survey conducted by RAND Corporation and Oregon State University that was published in the Feb. 1 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, a significant proportion of African Americans believe that U.S. government scientists created HIV to eradicate or control African-American communities. Nearly half of respondents said they believe that HIV is manmade, with approximately 12% saying they believe HIV was created and spread by the CIA, according to the study (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/25). Debra Fraser-Howze, president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, said, "[I]f you do nothing, if you don't protect yourself, it's suicide." According to statistics presented at the conference, about half of newly reported AIDS cases in the United States are among African Americans.

"Down Low"
Speakers also "alluded to the 'down-low' phenomenon" -- men who have sex with both men and women but do not mention their male relationships to their female sex partners, friends or family members -- and the accusation that these men are "fueling" the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans, according to the Inquirer. However, Wilson said no data exist to quantify the incidence or influence of such behavior. He added that the scenario portrays African-American women as "powerless victims, unable to protect themselves from HIV-infected men," and that the African-American community needs to work to "de-link blame and shame from accountability and responsibility." Celia Maxwell, assistant vice president for health affairs at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said that women also need to "take charge" of their health by asking their sex partners about sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and be aware of possible signs of STDs, according to the Inquirer. George Roberts, associate director of prevention partnerships in the HIV/AIDS prevention division at CDC, also discussed the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in the African-American community and the "significant barrier" it presents to prevention and treatment efforts (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/2).

Jackson Urges Public HIV Testing
Well-known African-American men should make a "public stand" for HIV testing to break the stigma associated with the disease, Rev. Jesse Jackson said on Monday at the conference, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "Why can't ministers and high-profile athletes and high-profile television people take the test to remove the taboo?" Jackson, founder and former president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, asked, adding, "Suppose these high-profile athletes took the HIV test on TV. It would make taking the test cool, a culturally acceptable thing to do." However, Jackson added, "It's gone away for the Hollywood set -- the ones with money, education and health care. It's no longer a cause celebre." Jackson noted that former NBA player Magic Johnson, who is HIV-positive, only discovered he had the disease after a medical screening for insurance, the Inquirer reports. Dr. Beny Primm, chair of the National Minority AIDS Council, said that Johnson since has promoted HIV testing programs in more than 40 cities to more than 60,000 people, according to the Inquirer. "If other people would follow that lead, we'd make a great impact," Primm added (Lin, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/1).

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