Every year on February 7, AIDS service organizations in the U.S. are commemorating National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, but studies found that AIDS incidences for the African-American population are still on the rise. The HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is devoted to education, testing and treatment. The goal is to raise awareness in the African-American community, but experts say they cannot do it alone.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 47 percent of all new HIV/AIDS incidences are accounted for African-Americans, while they only make up for 12 percent of the U.S. population. An alarming increase is especially seen for gay men and transgender individuals and although new HIV/AIDS incidences for African-American women have declined in the past years, they still made up for 64 percent of all new incidences in 2011.
Donna Hubbard McCree is associate director of the Health Equity Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention and says a lot of the situation has to do with social and environmental factors. “One of the most important factors is health insurance and access to health care. If a person does not have the means to protect themselves of getting infected or to visit a doctor when the infection has already taken place, they may end up in circumstances that increases their own risk and those of others,” she explains. Dr. Bruce Hirsh, a physician at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, says, “In the U.S. we have a great ability to treat HIV/AIDS. We can control the virus and make sure infected people can live a long life without too many inconveniences. The numbers, reported by the CDC, simply show our failures to follow through on care for the African-American population, for who AIDS incidences are on the rise.”
The high number of HIV/AIDS infected African-Americans may suggest that this group is at a higher risk, but this is not the case. Chris Collins, vice president for the Foundation of AIDS Research, says, “African-American men or women are at no higher risk than their Caucasian counterparts, so how come we see higher infection rates for the first group?” The answer to this question comes from Collins himself. “It is because health care is less accessible for this group due to social and environmental factors. We have a long way to go to getting health care access for the African-American population.”
Since January 2014, health insurance programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are no longer allowed to deny people based on any pre-existing conditions they may suffer from. In addition, there are a number of preventive services that must be provided at no cost to the beneficiary. A screening for HIV is included as one of the preventive services. Several studies have shown that treatment for those infected by HIV/AIDS must be started as early as possible after diagnosis to control the virus.
Experts are pleased to see that the ACA can be a first step in the right direction, hoping that AIDS incidences for the African-American population, which are currently on the rise, will decrease with the help of health care that is easy accessible.
By Diana Herst