Three decades later, AIDS remains deadly among blacks

Published: June 29, 2011

LOS ANGELES (PRNewswire-USNewswire) — Recent, unprecedented clinical advances provide the means for ending the AIDS epidemic, according to a recent report from the Black AIDS Institute.
The breakthroughs include a major clinical trial demonstrating that early use of antiretroviral therapy sharply lowers the risk of the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Positive evidence from a clinical trial demonstrating the partial efficacy of a vaginal microbicide and findings that daily use of pre-exposure prophylaxis significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission among men who have sex with men are among other good news in the fight against the deadly disease.
The report, titled, “30 years is Enuf: the History of the AIDS Epidemic in Black America,” was issued earlier in June to mark the 30th anniversary of the first official report of AIDS, among six gay men in Los Angeles.
“Thirty years into the AIDS epidemic, our prevention toolbox has exploded, giving us the ability to dramatically cut new infections and improve health outcomes” said Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute.

“The clinical prevention breakthroughs we’ve seen in the last year are nothing short of earth shattering and finally make it possible for us to start working toward an ‘end game’ for the epidemic,” Wilson said.
“We’re now at a deciding moment but the question remains: Will we seize this opportunity or will we allow AIDS to remain a scourge for another 30 years?"
The report calls on the President and Congress to make the necessary in AIDS fighting programs and for replacing current efforts with a unified approach that recognizes that prevention and treatment must go together.
The report also calls for large-scale spending on HIV treatment education capacity in black communities and for vastly expanded HIV testing and treatment initiatives.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS and the impact on black Americans has been particularly severe” said U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. “People of color represent a majority of new HIV infections, new AIDS diagnoses, people living with HIV/AIDS and deaths from AIDS.

“Black Americans have the highest rate of new HIV infections and new AIDS diagnoses of any racial group and approximately two percent of black Americans today are HIV positive.”
Waters said such statistics point to the importance of the Minority AIDS Initiative, which she started when she chaired the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Initiative “builds infrastructure and capacity in minority communities and targets resources to the people who are most affected by this devastating disease," Waters said.
 AIDS has always disproportionately affected the Black community, particularly women, gay men and young people. In the early days of the epidemic, the disease was portrayed as affecting only  gay white men. However, blacks accounted for 26 percent of AIDS cases reported in 1981-1983, though African Americans comprised only 12 percent of the U.S. population.

The number of new HIV infections among blacks surpassed that of whites by the late 1980s and, by 2006, blacks were 7.3 times more likely than whites to become infected.

Today blacks represent 46 percent of the 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, 45 percent of new HIV cases and 51 percent of annual AIDS-related deaths.
“Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, only four countries have HIV prevalence as high as conservative estimates of HIV burden in black America," said Cornelius Baker, chairman of the board of the Black AIDS Institute and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
"Black Americans, and Black youth especially, have not benefited from treatment and prevention advances as significantly as other racial and ethnic groups,” Baker said.

“The sub-optimal HIV outcomes that black Americans experience are the result of a variety challenges, including late diagnosis of HIV, inadequate healthcare access, discontinuity of care, treatment adherence challenges and a higher prevalence of other serious co-morbidities,” he said.

The Black Aids Institute report says that it was more than two decades into the epidemic before AIDS was recognized as posing a “state of emergency” for black America. Young blacks, it says, are particularly and disproportionately affected by AIDS.
“The AIDS epidemic began before I was born; I’ve never known a world without it,” said Jurnee Smollett, AIDS activist and actress from Friday Night Lights and The Great Debaters. "And, yet, despite its omnipresence in our lives, there remains a pervasive silence around AIDS among young people, particularly young women.”
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