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AIDS What you should know

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 3/7/2012, 5 p.m.

Thirty years after the HIV/AIDS epidemic was officially recognized by the United States medical establishment, the impact the disease has had on the African American community is profound.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has described the situation as a crisis. Consider these facts:

1) Although Blacks represent only about 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for almost half the people living with AIDS in the nation--46 percent, or an estimated 545,000 people.

2) Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 250,000 Blacks with AIDS have died. (More than 575,000 Americans in general have died because of the disease.)

3) According to the Black AIDS Institute, if Black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people with HIV--ahead of Ethiopia, Botswana and Haiti.

4) Data released by the CDC in August 2011 showed an alarming 48 percent increase in new HIV infections among young Black men ages 13-29 who have sex with men. The figures are based on research between 2006 and 2009 and represent the most recent numbers available.

5) One in five people living with AIDS do not know they are infected.

Plainly speaking, African Americans are significantly more likely to get infected with HIV than other racial groups, and as usual there is a complex combination of social, economic and cultural factors at the root of the disparity.

One of the reasons for the higher infection rate is that African Americans tend to have sex with other Blacks, which decreases the pool of non-infected partners.

There is also lack of access to healthcare; and discomfort talking about HIV, HIV testing, treatment and support.

According to the Black AIDS Institute report, "AIDS: 30 Years Is Enuf!," other factors are late diagnosis; discontinuity of care and a high prevalence of conditions that interfere with adherence to treatment regimens.

"This new data is the first time we have been able to look at multi-year trends, and what we see is that the rate (of HIV infection) remains relatively stable but at a high rate, and the population most at risk is young Black gay and bisexual men ages 13-29. They were the only group where you saw an significant increase. Black women were also 15 times more likely than Whites and three to four times more likely than Hispanic women to be infected," said Donna McCree, Ph.D., associate director of Health Equity for the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention with the CDC.

Despite the disheartening news about the increase in infections among young Black men, McCree said there have been improvement over the years. She pointed out the mother-child infection rate, which was 1,060 per year at the beginning of the epidemic, is now down to 150.

"There has also been a decrease in the number of new infections, but we still have more work to do," added the CDC director.

Additionally, under President Barack Obama, the federal government launched its first comprehensive, target-driven National HIV/AIDS Strategy (see AIDS.gov). The strategy has a threefold goal: 1) reducing the number of people who become infected with HIV; 2) increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV; and 3) reducing HIV-related health disparities.