Statement by Dr. Kevin Fenton
February 7, 2009
Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a day to focus attention on the staggering toll HIV continues to take on the black community. It is also a day of hope – a day on which we recognize the progress we continue to make towards ending this epidemic in our communities.
Today, African-Americans continue to face the most severe rates of HIV infection in the nation. The latest estimates indicate that while blacks make up just 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for nearly half of new HIV infections and almost half of the more than one million Americans estimated to be living with HIV. The harsh reality is that 1 in 16 black men will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime, as will 1 in 30 black women.
Black gay and bisexual men and black women are particularly hard hit by HIV. Sixty-three percent of new infections among black men occur among men who have sex with men (MSM). Further, there are troubling signs of a worsening epidemic among young black MSM, as HIV diagnoses in this population have increased dramatically in recent years. Black women are also disproportionately affected by HIV, with infection rates 15 times as high as those of white women.
To turn the tide, we all must continue to confront the realities of this disease in African-American communities. While race itself does not increase risk, high prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in black communities means African-Americans face a greater risk of HIV infection with each sexual encounter than other groups. Stark realities of some African-Americans’ lives – including poverty and limited access to health care – increase the likelihood of HIV infection. Stigma and homophobia also contribute to keeping HIV alive in black communities.
While these statistics paint a dire picture, they do not predict the future. In fact, now there are more opportunities than ever to stop the devastation of HIV in African-American communities. For example:
The black community is mobilizing. National leaders – including heads of major civic organizations and African-American celebrities, as well as Congressional, faith, business and community leaders – are speaking out about the need for action.
Recent evidence shows we are making progress towards ending this epidemic. In a promising sign that prevention efforts are working, a major CDC study recently found that new infections among blacks have remained roughly stable for more than a decade – despite the growing number of people living with HIV who can potentially transmit the disease. New infections have also declined among several transmission groups in which African-Americans are disproportionately represented – babies born to HIV-infected mothers, intravenous drug users, and heterosexuals.
But nearly 25,000 blacks still become infected with HIV every year. We cannot allow this crisis to continue. We must all play a role in fighting this disease. Everyone and every action counts.
At CDC, as well as other agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, addressing the HIV crisis in African-American communities is among the highest HIV prevention priorities. In 2007, CDC spent $300 million – more than half of its domestic HIV prevention budget – on fighting HIV in African-American communities. And through the Heightened National Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis among African-Americans, CDC is working with black leaders and public health partners to expand the reach of existing prevention programs, develop new interventions and research, increase testing, and mobilize black communities.
As a nation, we must recognize the HIV epidemic for the crisis that it is. In our communities, we must work to confront the stigma that prevents too many of those at risk from seeking testing, treatment and support. Individuals have a critical role to play as well, by getting the facts about HIV, getting tested, and taking action. Call CDC’s hotline, 1-800-CDC-INFO, or visit http://www.hivtest.org or http://www.aids.gov to find a testing location near you.
Reducing the toll of HIV among African-Americans will require hard work and courage from all of us. Today, however, we have more opportunities than ever to stop HIV. There is reason for hope and continued work amidst this crisis.