There are more than one million new cases of HIV infections in the U.S. every year, and nearly half of them are African American men, women, and children. Black men are nearly eight times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than white males, while black females are 20 times more likely to be diagnosed than white females.
Today marks the thirteenth annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. For the past 13 years, the day has been used to raise education about the disease among African Americans while encouraging blacks from all walks of life to get “tested, involved and treated.” As is the case with most great societal detriments, education and awareness are quite possibly the most integral step to mobilizing the public to do something significant about the plight.
However, as the movement continues to grow, including hundreds of multicultural Greek fraternities and sororities hosting college programs to get students tested and protected, it is also essential that a bold step is taken to transition from education to action items. An awareness day should not be confined to sharing knowledge and working within the norms of a slow-to-respond health research culture; it is also about demanding policymakers and leaders in the health industry do better.
Currently, only 3% of the federal domestic dollars that are spent on HIV go toward prevention. And so, it’s about reintroducing the discussion of HIV to the short intention span of the general public that tossed it away from the news desk almost as soon as it hit the mainstream; it’s about encouraging affected populations to speak in a bold collective voice that stresses the urgency of affective research — the type of research that thinks more critically about cures than condom giveaways and classroom lessons on chastity.
With this National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness, I can only hope that we are not only doing the leg- work on college campuses and preaching to the choirs, but also using the power of numbers and advocacy to simply ask our Congress why there’s a culture of decreasing funding for the National Institute of Health; especially when more people are suffering from the very issues that must be on the top of our to-do-lists.
Although this is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, make no mistake about it; HIV does not discriminate by race, class, locale or culture. Regardless of our race, many of us may know someone who is or was infected with HIV, especially considering that one in five Americans infected with HIV are unaware they have it. However, the fact remains that African Americans are disproportionately affected. When Black Americans are 13% of the nation’s population, yet comprise 44% of all HIV cases, there is a special need for the community to work together and even press the rest of the nation towards a long overdue cure. How much stronger of a movement can be made when those who are most affected rise and set an example?