The Body: The HIV/AIDS Authority


HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Diseases,
Tuberculosis Prevention News Update

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
May 30, 2001

Twenty Years of AIDS in America
Wall Street Journal
05.30.01; Ann Carrns

Twenty years after the first cases of AIDS were identified, the rate of HIV infection for Americans has stabilized at roughly 40,000 annually. That reduced overall HIV infection rate, however, is not reflected in the HIV rate for African-Americans.

African-Americans account for more than half of new infections, according to the CDC. One in 50 black men is believed to have HIV, with black women accounting for 64 percent of new HIV cases among adult females. "It's unacceptable, in a rich nation like ours, to have 40,000 new infections of what is a preventable disease," said Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the CDC's AIDS prevention center.

The higher HIV rate for African-Americans is accounted for by enduring socioeconomic disparities, including lack of access to medical care. African-Americans are more likely than whites to live in areas with high rates of STDs. "Clients I see rarely have just HIV," says Patricia Kelly, executive director of Movers Inc., an AIDS outreach program in Miami. "It's HIV and substance abuse, HIV and domestic violence, HIV and my kids are in foster care, HIV and my family won't have anything to do with me, HIV and I'm in jail." Blacks are disproportionately represented in US prisons, where HIV infection rates are six times higher than in the general population.

In addition, black men who have sex with men are less likely to identify as homosexual and so miss prevention messages targeting gays. According to Kevin McGruder, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent, a New York nonprofit organization, black men are less likely to be public about being gay because fewer institutional support systems and medical clinics understand their background.

Mistrust of the medical establishment endures among poor, black Americans because of a history of abuse, like the government-sponsored Tuskegee Syphilis study that left patients diagnosed with the disease untreated even after the development of penicillin. Surveys show that eight of 10 people at risk for HIV believe at least one HIV conspiracy theory. According to Dr. Beny Primm, executive director of the Addiction Research and Treatment Corp., the best way to counter the mistrust that leads to high-risk behavior is to use HIV-positive counselors in high- risk neighborhoods. "This way," he says, "the misinformation is refuted by people who are trusted by the community." Such focused intervention can increase HIV testing and may serve as a blueprint for broader efforts.

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This document was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.