National HIV Testing Day in the United States is led by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through their website AIDS.gov. HIV is an epidemic in this country. I know. It seems like everything is an epidemic in this country. Well, the inconvenient truth, to borrow from Al Gore, is that there are several health epidemics in this country. And guess what, African Americans, especially women, are in the cross hairs of all of them.
To say Black women are on the verge of extinction may seem a bit dramatic, but the odds are not forever in our favor. In addition to obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer Black women battle HIV infections at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans make up 14% of the US population yet account for half (44%) of new infections and 41% of people living with HIV. Black women are among the hardest hit by this epidemic. In 2010 it is estimated that Black women accounted for 38.1 infections per 100,000 people. Black men were an astounding 103.6 infections per 100,000 people. Our white female and male counterparts were 1.9 and 15.8 respectively. The south is the region of the country with the most new infections.
There is some good news. Between 2008 and 2010 new infections among Black women were down by 21%. This may be attributed to more women using protection and reducing or refraining from high-risk behaviors. The government has also poured greater resources into outreach to low-income and low-education communities which is considered to be at the heart of the epidemic. At 63% the virus is primarily transmitted between gay men or via homosexual activities (not all men having sex with men consider themselves gay or bisexual). 25% of the transmissions were through heterosexual activities. Injection drug use accounted for 8%. Unfortunately transmissions between men having sex with men between the ages of 13 and 24 have increased by 22% over the same time period. Black and white males in this category are the most and almost equally impacted by rate of new infections.
How Are Black Women Being Infected?
The CDC only comments on the, shall we say, well-accepted reasons for this epidemic. What the CDC doesn’t say, and probably can’t say, is that in addition to the usual suspects of lack of education, lack of access to health care, being young and engaging in risky behaviors is that there are men who consciously infect Black women. A few weeks ago there was a post on another website that talked about a secret movement by some Black men to purposely infect Black women with HIV. There was a video posted on YouTube that will not be shared here. It was disturbing to say the least. Who knows how successful this organization has been. However, another inconvenient truth about the Black community is that being a homosexual male is taboo. So taboo in fact that these men would rather live their life on the “down low” engaging in unprotected sex with other men and infect their partners. At the height of HIV infections among Black women this was suspected as the main driver of transmissions. Statistics showed that at the time Black women were not engaged in other behaviors that would have exposed them to the virus at a higher rate than white women. Black women who were IV drug users were just as likely to contract the virus as their white counterparts.
Let’s Stop HIV In Its Tracks
One in seven people don’t even know they have HIV. That’s why getting tested is vital. More people are able to live long healthy lives with the virus, but only if they know they have it. If you don’t want to go to a clinic there are ways to get tested in the privacy of your own home. HIV testing kits are available at national chain drug stores and available for order online. If you have health insurance getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases is considered preventative care if administered as part of your annual pap smear exam. Are you married and not sure you should be tested? That’s a tough question that only you can answer. However, thousands of women have been infected by their husbands.
- First is first, immediately stop engaging in high-risk behaviors. This can take the form of IV drug use with re-used needles, multiple partners, or unprotected sex.
- Second, get tested and ask your partner to get tested. Find out where you can get tested through AIDS.gov.
- Third, share this post within your community and with someone you love. We need to end the multiple health epidemics facing Black women or we won’t have much of a future in the next few decades.
Blacks typically don’t get tested for HIV due to the social stigma of it being a homosexual disease. Even though all testing can be done privately and/or anonymously there is the ingrained feeling that getting tested implies a connection to homosexuality. This is so serious that President Obama has issued a national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS. Read more about this epidemic here.
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