Phil Wilson, Black AIDS Institute CEO says Blacks must maintain treatment to fight the war against positive HIV/AIDS cases. “Nobody is ever going to care about us as much as we care about ourselves,” said Wilson.
He notes the phobia behind sexism, racism and homosexuality as reasons that make it harder for Black gay men to receive treatment necessary to deal with HIV/AIDS. Wilson sees the fear of communing to talk about sex equally problematic as discussing treatment.
Barriers also include unemployment rates of 12 percent for black men ages 20 and higher compared to white men in the same age range with only a five percent unemployment rate. This has a lot to do with who is approved for treatment even as health measures in the U.S. undergo reform. Southern states with a largely conservative legislative base are not as willing to approve Medicaid leaving gays out of the loop.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up Wilson’s premise of low numbers for successful treatment. The report states, Blacks test more than other populations but are not getting treatment for HIV.
The study compared testing and treatment rates of Blacks to other populations. They found while Blacks are testing at rates of 60 percent, with 78 percent linked to care. Only 48 percent maintained treatment efforts compared to 54 percent of whites.
Donna Hubbard-McCree, associate director of Health Equity with HIV/AIDS Prevention division at the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention at the CDC says there are steps to being healthier when living with the illness. Taking medication, getting into care and staying in treatment are options that make viral suppression work.
The CDC reports only 35 percent of Blacks with HIV as having achieved viral suppression, in comparison to 39 percent of the overall population living with HIV/AIDS.
A 21 percent drop in new cases of Black women with HIV is noted by the CDC, but the prevention center is hesitant about calling that a trend just yet. Even as numbers decrease for Black women, 44 percent remains high as Black women still lead in numbers for cases of U.S. Residents living with HIV. Black women still account for two-thirds of new cases for women more than 20 times that of white women.
Black men have rates of HIV that remain exceptionally high especially in the population of Black men who have sex with men (MSM). Their rates make up 51 percent of new infections.
The CDC awarded 55 million in grants to non-profits working on ending the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in communities of color and for those organizations working with MSM and youth of color. Thirty four organizations that work with LGBT youth of color have had resources to make a positive difference since grant monies were awarded in September 2011. Even with the funding, Blacks testing positive for HIV need to maintain treatment to stay healthy.
Grant monies and programming that provides outreach and prevention to specific hard hit communities with in-your-face campaigns may have the ability to change minds of people who have ignored the numbers before.
Funding is a start but people have to understand the urgency of the message. Testing, treatment, and self-care are all important. What does not work is acting as if the problem does not exist, relying on the word of sexual partners and ignoring the need to test if one is sexually active.
Communities are hurting and it is up to individuals within those communities to care enough about self and quality of life to get involved. Both Blacks receiving HIV treatment, and those just finding out that a positive status exists need to maintain treatment to stay as healthy as possible.
By C. Imani Williams