While African Americans account for only 12% of the United States population, we account for nearly 45% of newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2015. Which is an increase of 1% from 2014.There is no deny that socioeconomic issues such as poverty, unequal access to quality healthcare and housing, along with limited access to HIV education, contribute to these rising numbers.
The stigma of HIV
Where I live in Columbia, SC (as a matter of fact the south in general) has some of the highest rates of HIV infection amongst African American women and men.
What’s even worse is that in the African American community there is such a stigma surrounding HIV that many who have contracted the virus, choose not talk about it nor appropriately disclose their status to their partners (or potential partners). However, let me be clear in stating that while this is prevalent to the AA community, it is not exclusive.
HIV is STILL here
After over 30 years, HIV is still here. 30% of people globally who are HIV positive don’t know it. The vast majority of people living with HIV are located in low- and middle- income countries, with an estimated 25.5 million living in sub-Saharan Africa. Among this group 19.4 million are living in East and Southern Africa, which saw 44% of new HIV infections globally in 2016.
With so many people not knowing their status, this means that not only are they not seeking potentially life-saving treatment (as treatments for HIV have improved, including a promising possible HIV vaccine being developed by Johnson & Johnson which they announced at this year’s Global Citizen Festival), this also means that they are at a high risk of infecting others.
Since HIV rates among African American men-both homosexual and heterosexual are high, combined with the stigma of homosexuality in our community which leads many men to remain “on the downlow”, for American black women, the rates for us are much higher than that of our female counterparts of other races.
“African-Americans represented 61 percent of diagnoses among women in 2015. The annual amount of black women diagnosed with HIV (26.2 per 100,000) is roughly 16 times more than that of white women.”-Source
According to UNAIDS, every week, 7,000 young women around the world contract HIV. That’s a new young woman impacted every two minutes. In fact, young women aged 10-24 are twice as likely to contract HIV as males the same ages.
While we may think as a society that consenting adults should regularly be tested, the truth is that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 (if you have certain known risk factors), should be tested at least once. Today, young people make up over 20% of HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. According to the CDC, young people between the ages of 13 and 24 account for just over one in five HIV diagnoses.
First comes love, then comes testing
Before I was married, I made sure that I was tested at least once a year (my gyn recommended it), and I am highly grateful for the fact that she even mentioned it. Before we married, my husband and I both tested, as to make sure that we both knew our status before we tied the knot.
When I discussed doing this to my friend, I remember her stating “If you have to test your husband, you shouldn’t be getting married.” This mindset is not uncommon. However, for my protection (and his), and that of our future children, we both knew that it was imperative to get this done.
Working in public health and studying HIV rates in my area, I knew just how common it was for both men and women to find out their status after marriage (for some women, it was when they learned they were pregnant). Even though I frequently discussed how important getting tested was with friends, it seemed as if they were worried more about what other people thought moreso than knowing this potentially life-saving information.
400 children newly contract HIV every day with 290 children dying of AIDS related illness every day, according to UNAIDS – Children & HIV Fact Sheet July 2016.
You CAN live an amazing life with HIV
Over the years I have met and befriended some amazing people who have a positive status. However, their stories while heartbreaking in some cases, the people themselves, are equally as positive in their mindset. What I have learned from close friends who have contracted the virus is that they have never let their positive status affect their lives and that staying healthy and spreading the word is key to making HIV History.
I have had the pleasure to attend some amazing conferences and speaking events where I was privileged to be in the number to hear life-changing stories from those who were diagnosed at birth and some even diagnosed later in life.
Let’s get together and help make HIV History!
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.