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Thursday, February 07, 2002

 

Black community must stress AIDS education
AWARENESS: Prevention efforts lacking; one in 50 males infected with HIV

Puri is a first-year psychobiology student. Martinez is a fifth-year psychology student.


By Siddarth Puri and Tom Martinez

It's not surprising that today is relatively quiet. This day doesn't have the fanfare of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day or Independence Day.

While February has long been celebrated as Black History Month, few are aware that Feb.7 marks Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It's a day of organized efforts to deliver much needed information and awareness to the nation regarding the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on the black community, as well as others.

AIDS is the second leading cause of death among African American men between the ages of 25 to 44, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Rates of new HIV cases in the African American community have consistently increased over the years. In the United States, there are an estimated 900,000 Americans with HIV, and of these 325,000 are African American. One in every three cases is an African American, yet African Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population. One in every 50 African American men is infected with HIV; African American men who have sex with men are the most severely affected in this group.

In Los Angeles County one of every five HIV infected gay men is African American. For African American women, the number infected with HIV is one out of every 160, which is 21 times greater than the rate in white women.

A number of issues contribute to the disproportionately higher number of blacks with HIV or AIDS. Many African Americans, especially those living in communities facing socioeconomic hardship, typically have limited access to healthcare and counseling resources. In the past there has been a stigma that HIV/AIDS is specific to the gay community, as opposed to everyone this delayed both the quantity and quality of resources dedicated to prevention and treatment. Successful prevention, though, requires extensive education, testing and counseling but promoting testing alone doesn't solve the problem.

In 1998, for example, 56 percent of more than 2 million tests performed were taken by men who had already taken the test at least once that year this is referred to as "repeat testing." The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Young Men's Survey," shows young men engaging in sex with men who got tested repeatedly were more likely to acquire HIV and to report high-risk behaviors. Of the repeat testers, more than 75 percent acquired HIV within one year or less from their last test.

When HIV testing first began, counseling played an important role. Today, people are tested without the benefits of in-depth pre- and post-test counseling. To accomplish the education demands, there needs to be a more consistent effort to educate and counsel individuals who take HIV tests. Effective changes in behavior will only come from better knowledge about what makes people vulnerable to contracting HIV.

Projects such as Keeping Young African American Men Healthy are committed to the reduction of new HIV infections in young African Americans 18-29 years of age through research that clarifies the necessary psychological and emotional prevention tools necessary for young at-risk African American gay men.

Another organization, Black Care, has been committed in its efforts with young heterosexual African American, Latino/a and Asian American men and women to examine HIV risk reduction strategies.

As we concern ourselves with conducting outreach, whether the SAT is racially biased or not, and whether high school AP courses are fair, we must not forget to worry about other factors that also target African American community health factors, and specifically, HIV/AIDS.

We must be aware of the epidemic proportions of HIV in racial and ethnic minority groups. The ways in which we focus our prevention methods must couple education and counseling with testing, since testing alone has proven an incomplete method of risk prevention.

But this isn't being done today is a quiet day. There are no teach-ins, celebrations, picnics or parties. Masses are not gathered on the steps of Murphy hall, city hall or Sacramento demanding the adoption of an emergency plan to end this crisis in the African American community.

So, in the quietness of today's Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, where is your voice and what will you do to end the suffering?


Author: Siddarth Puri;Tom Martinez
Web Address: http://www.dailybruin.ucla.edu/db/articles.asp?ID=18318
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