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Black Women Hit Hard by HIV/AIDS

POSTED: September 14, 2008, 12:00 am

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a new HIV incidence surveillance system to monitor select areas of the United States. The system is part of its HIV/AIDS reporting system. The CDC has released its findings for 2006 and the results reveal the impact the epidemic is having upon the Black community. The data shows that 73 percent of new infections were in males, 45 percent were in Blacks and 53 percent were in men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM (of all races), Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately represented among groups with new HIV infections in 2006.

The CDC drew an even more complete picture by focusing on subpopulation estimates by age group, race/ethnicity and HIV transmission category. The numbers show that young, Black gay men are being hit particularly hard. In 2006 of new HIV infections among men, 72 percent were in men who have sex with men (MSM). Among that group, 46 percent were white, 35 percent were Black and 19 percent were Hispanic. In the age group 13-29, the number of new HIV infections in Blacks (5,220) was 1.6 times the number in whites (3,330) and 2.3 times the number in Hispanics (2,300).

A different picture emerges for rates of infections among females. The predominant HIV transmission category was high-risk heterosexual contact, which accounted for 80 percent of new infections. Among this group Black women have seen their numbers swell. The HIV incident rate for Black females was 14.7 times the rate for white females, and the rate for Hispanic females was 3.8 times the rate for white females.

Incidence rates were calculated for the District of Columbia and 22 states with confidential, name-based HIV surveillance and HIV surveillance with adequate data to calculate incidence estimates. The states include: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

The data shows that of the estimated 54,230 new infections in 2006, Blacks comprised 46 percent though the group is just 12 percent of the nation’s population. Among males 40 percent of new infections occurred in Blacks, 41 percent in whites and 19 percent in Hispanics. While Black male infections were high, it is among Black females were the rates of infection are alarming. Among females 61 percent of infections were among Blacks, 23 percent in whites, and 16 percent were in Hispanics.

Among both males and females, the highest rates of new infections were among Blacks; 115.7 and 55.7 per 100,000 respectively. It is when the racial comparison is made that it becomes clear that HIV/AIDS is a crisis in the Black community. Among Black males the incidence rate was 5.9 times the rate among white males, and among the 13-29 year old age group the rate was 7.1 times the rate of white males in the same age group. The rate of infection among Black females was 14.7 times the rate among white females. For the reporting period the data covers young Black, gay men and Black females are the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the Black community.

Belying persistent stereotypes of HIV/AIDS being a “gay disease,” the data shows that for Black women high-risk heterosexual contact is driving new infections. High risk heterosexual contact accounted for 80 percent of new infections among females but only 20 percent among males. Among males in that group, 20 percent of new infections were among Blacks, 13 percent among Hispanics, and 6 percent among whites.

The male-to-male (MSM) transmission category represented 72 percent of new infections among males, including 81 percent of new infections among whites. Among MSM, whites had 46 percent of new infections, Blacks 35 percent and Hispanics 19 percent. However, young Black men in this category are driving the numbers upward. MSM in the age 13-29 year old category accounted for 38 percent of new infections among all MSM and 25 percent among white MSM, 52 percent among Black MSM, and 43 percent among Hispanic MSM. Within this age category Blacks had 43 percent (5,220) of new infections, compared to whites with 31 percent (3,300) and Hispanics at 21 percent (2,300).

The data shows that among Black and Hispanic MSM most new infections were in males aged 13-29, and among white MSM, the most new infections were in males 30-39 years old. Overall the CDC report confirms that new infections occurred disproportionately among Blacks and Hispanics and the greatest disparity between racial/ethnic minorities and whites is among females.

The numbers confirm the degree to which HIV/AIDS is devastating the Black community and why the relative silence within the community is having deadly consequences. Clearly, prevention should be a priority for policy makers and health care professionals as the disease is firmly rooted in subpopulation groups within the Black community that can easily be targeted for education and treatment. Community based organizations also have an important role to play in reaching individuals in alternative settings where health care professionals may have limited access. Important too are faith based organizations. The preponderance of new infections among Black females suggests the Black church has a significant role to play given that most congregations are overwhelmingly female.

As the presidential election heats up, the issue of HIV/AIDS would seem to be a priority for the Black community to communicate to both Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. While universal health care gets media attention, the explosion of HIV/AIDS in the Black community is conveniently ignored by most news organizations and policy makers outside the health care arena. Given the power of the Black female voting bloc, this latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should serve as an organizing tool to mobilize Black women in November. The gravity of the situation suggests an alignment of Black women across socio-economic categories that could hold tremendous sway at the polls and influence the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns.

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