Today is Black HIV and AIDS Awareness Day

One in 16 black men will be diagnosed as HIV-positive. By Terrance E. Moore

February 7 marks National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). Appropriately, this year’s theme is “It Takes a Village to Fight HIV/AIDS!” (More on that in a bit.) NBHAAD marks a time to reflect on the nearly quarter-million of African-Americans who have died of AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic and serves as a clarion call to get tested and learn one’s HIV status. HIV continues to maintain a stronghold on the black community.

The data is a sobering reminder: African-Americans account for almost half (approximately 46 percent) of HIV cases in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also estimate that one in 16 black men will receive an HIV-positive diagnosis in their lifetime, as will one in 30 black women. A recent CDC study also found that 28 percent of black men who have sex with men are infected with HIV, with the biggest disease burden in young men between the ages of 13 and 29 – a staggering 59 percent of those men were unaware of their status.

The Obama Administration’s release of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the Affordable Care Act creates a unique opportunity to consider new, innovative sexual health approaches that that extend beyond the scope of any particular disease (i.e., HIV/AIDS) and promotes wellness and prevention rather than our country’s antiquated model of treating rather than preventing disease.

That said, our best efforts will continue to usurp our best science and progress if one of the central challenges of HIV prevention is not addressed with vigor: pervasive and unmitigated stigma (i.e., same-sex sexuality/homophobia, race-related/racism and/or a confluence of the aforementioned perpetuated by key actors in our communities and in the public health arena) that diminishes our best efforts to create health-enabling environments for all Americans.

As NBHAAD’s 2011 theme underscores, it most certainly takes a village to fight HIV/AIDS. It also takes a tenacious citizenry unwavering in shared efforts to stomp out stigma and discrimination in America – the root-cause of HIV/AIDS and other health disparities.

We must stomp out stigma in our institutions: schools, work places, churches and in our homes. NBHAAD is not just a day for the black community to recognize the impact of HIV/AIDS on our community, but rather, it is a time for all communities to coalesce and recommit ourselves to ending the further spread of HIV/AIDS and the ignorance that perpetuates the disease cycle among all people.

Please note: SafeGuards LGBT Health Resource Center and COLOURS are sponsoring a community forum today (6 p.m.) at the William Way to discuss HIV prevention for African-American men and women in Philadelphia.

Terrance E. Moore is associate director of Racial & Ethnic Health Disparities at the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors.