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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

US Ranks 16th in AIDS Population

The headline may be a little misleading, but now that you are here lets look at the facts. If you pull out statistics for only Black American's they have a AIDS prevalence rate that would rank 16th in the world. This according to the Black AIDS Institute and reported in New York Times.

That is a little scary - WE ARE THE RICHEST NATION IN THE WORLD - how can something like this still be going on in the US? We are providing all kinds of resources around the world and are seeing HIV/AIDS dropping - then why is it still so high here? This study was released at the same time that the CDC released a report that the US has been underestimating the prevalence of HIV/AIDS by about 40%. How do you underestimate by almost half? That's a good question!

Phill Wilson, Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, would say that some of the problem is within the black community/culture. Summed up in one word: Stigma.

So why do I still say, “AIDS in America today is a Black disease?” The truth is, while awareness – and lip service – about this disease may be rising, too many of us still don't know our HIV status, aren't in appropriate care and treatment, and aren't taking concrete steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones from becoming infected. When it comes to this disease, we've got to walk the talk.

The facts remain startling. Over 50% of HIV-positive African Americans do not know they are HIV positive. For those who do get tested, it is often too late: Too late for treatment to be fully effective, too late to stop the progression from HIV to AIDS and too late to prevent significantly more AIDS-related deaths in our communities.

And there is a cruel irony here: Many of our people are dying just as HIV treatment reaches new heights. Today's medications mean HIV can be successfully treated over the long term with just 1 or 2 pills a day. This is amazing progress compared to just a decade ago, when treatment was difficult to take and involved lots of pills. But because we're not getting tested for HIV early and often, many of our brothers and sisters are missing out on these advances.

Behind all of this is the ongoing challenge of HIV stigma. Too many people are still too scared to take the test for fear of how others may react to a positive diagnosis. And too many people are discouraged by damaging misinformation and myths in our community about HIV. But times have changed. Today, the stigma Black America really needs to be concerned about is the shame of not getting tested, and thereby not doing what it takes to end the AIDS epidemic in our communities. It is time for each one of us to take responsibility for the health – and the future – of our community.

The Institute is taking action in a campaign called "Test One Million" which hopes to:

  • Reduce HIV rates in Black America,
  • Dramatically increase the number of Black people who know their HIV status,
  • Build an army of Black testing and treatment advocates,
  • Increase the number of Black people seeking early treatment and care, and
  • Decrease HIV stigma in Black communities.

The problem is multi-faceted and so will the ability to fix it. The Institute rails against the Bush Administration for providing development aid targeting HIV/AIDS to countries that have a lower prevelance rate than the black community. I think part of this stems from the fact that money has been invested in those countries for awhile now and have done marvelous good. In the same NY Times article a UN report is quoted as saying that the overall mortality rates from HIV/AIDS has decreased since its peak in the early 1980's.

I think the black community has the right to be upset about this issue. In my opinion it is more of a systematic racism but it is also a big cultural issue. I don't believe they should rely solely on government aid - this is America - we need to do some work too. But as the culture is being transformed through superstars like Oprah and even Obama (both were tested for HIV publicly) we as a citizenry and government need to make sure the resources are there to support the change. One of the main reasons anti-retrovirals, the drugs that can slow HIV/AIDS down, are available internationally at an affordable rate is because many are subsidized. Actually there are some of the drugs that are being sold internationally on the market as generics due to emergency clauses in patent laws - which will never be seen in the US.

Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation have been very active in the process of helping combat the issue of HIV/AIDS around the world and was actually a big reason for subsidies and getting the drugs sent at discount prices. On August 5, he announced that his foundation will now include doing work in the United States around this issue. He didn't provide many specifics to his plan but simply said:

"For Americans, this should be a wake-up call," Clinton said, addressing the International AIDS Conference here. "Even as we fight the epidemic globally, we must focus at home. And I intend to do so with my foundation."

If you are still reading and not completely overwhelmed you can tell this is a very complex issue and one that you and I probably can't do much about. We can continue to be aware of the problem and the issue. At some point we will need to step up and say we want the government to take action and help rid the country of this virus.

What do you think? Do you see a better/easier solution?

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