More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., including more than 498,400 who are Black, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).
HIV diagnoses among Blacks are concentrated in a handful of states, with ten accounting for the majority (68 percent) of Blacks living with an HIV diagnosis at the end of 2014. Florida closely follows New York at the top of the list, according to KFF.
Blacks comprise nearly 16 percent of the adult population in Florida but represent 47 percent of adult HIV infection cases, and 52 percent of adult AIDS cases were reported in 2014 according to AIDSVu. The rate of black women living with an HIV diagnosis is nearly 18 times that of white women. The rate of black males living with an HIV diagnosis is 4.5 times that of whites.
Wilson Williams (not his real name) is one of them – he received the diagnosis in 1997. The 51-year-old said the news was devastating. “I thought it was a death sentence,” he recalls. “I used to feel cursed, like God hated me for being gay.”
But that was then.
HIV treatments have come a long way – so has Williams. The West Palm Beach resident returned to college in his 40s and earned a bachelor’s degree. He has a new job, a 14-year committed relationship, and he’s been sober for three years. “I have a new respect for life. I am now more present. I want to do more than survive; I want to live!”
But living well is not so easy for many black people with HIV/AIDS. The fight against HIV/AIDS is still looking tough under President Trump. His administration does not have a National Director of AIDS Policy; a shift from previous administrations, and late last month the president fired the entire council that advises the White House about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The uncertainty about policy remains as blacks, especially, young black, gay men, the demographic where the majority of new HIV infections are occurring, are hit the hardest. Blacks maintain the highest death rate among all populations diagnosed with HIV. If current rates persist, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) projects that approximately one in 20 black men, one in 48 black women, and one in two black gay and bisexual men will receive a diagnosis of HIV during their lifetimes.
Why? In part because of poverty, lack of access to health care, racial inequality and stigma. “Stigma remains one of the many barriers in the fight against HIV/AIDS within the black community,” said Lorenzo Lowe, Director of HIV Prevention at Compass the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Palm Beach County.
“Unfortunately, we as a community are remaining silent about our needs and our fears. The judgment and shaming surrounding HIV/AIDS tend to be more harmful than the disease itself. Adherence to treatment will promote longevity and quality of life. However, it is the narrative of life ending at HIV positive that needs to change.”
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) is Feb. 7. The 2018 theme is “Stay the Course; the Fight is Not Over!" NBHAAD aims to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment among Africans Americans in the U.S., as well as serve as a catalyst to mobilize the African American community. The NBHAAD initiative leverages a national platform to educate, bring awareness, and act with organizers planning activities and events, particularly in cities with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in African American communities.
Testing is another key aspect of NBHAAD. Testing helps reduce the transmission of HIV. Early diagnosis allows those infected to take steps to protect their partners from infection, and early treatment can lower viral load, and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others by 96 percent. “Preventive medicine is the best medicine,” said Williams. “Get tested. Be proactive. I wish I had been tested sooner.”
Treatment helps people with HIV live healthy lives and prevents transmission of the virus to partners. But too few African Americans living with HIV receive the care and treatment they need. The CDC estimates that of the roughly half a million African Americans living with HIV in 2013, 87 percent were aware of their status. And a recent CDC study suggests that among African Americans with diagnosed HIV, less than half (49 percent in 2013) have achieved viral suppression (that is, the virus is under control at a level that helps them stay healthy and reduces the risk of transmission).
Williams is one of them. His viral load has been undetectable for years. These days, he takes two medications, in the morning –and before bed. “I feel healthy,” he said. “HIV or not.”
To find a list of HIV testing locations near you, visit https: www.HIV.gov/locator.
Black Art Awakening at the Pride Center
The Pride Center at Equality Park hosts a Black Art Awakening as part of its NBHAAD commemoration. A spoken word artist will share her story of living with HIV. (add image from jpeg)
Compass hosts a dinner for NBHAAD on Tuesday, Feb. 6. The event begins at 6 p.m., there will be a presenter and food will be served.