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23 November 2006
AIDS Taking Devastating Toll On African-Americans
by George Atkinson

African-American lawmakers, civil rights leaders and medical experts have called on the federal government to adopt and implement a new plan to address the HIV/AIDS crisis that is cutting a swathe through African-American communities. The blueprint for action is outlined in a new report compiled by Robert E. Fullilove, at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. African-American leaders say the new report is a comprehensive analysis of the complex social, economic and personal factors that underpin the black AIDS epidemic.

African-Americans have always been overrepresented among those living with, and dying from, AIDS. While African Americans comprise only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for more than half of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. "Each year we ask why AIDS is hitting black Americans hardest. Our analysis identifies the forces that drive the epidemic in black America, and recommends proven, practical and affordable strategies that government must implement without delay to protect the health of African Americans," said Dr. Fullilove.

Some of the key recommendations in the report are:

  • Eliminate the marginalization and stigma associated with black men who have sex with men (MSM). African-American MSM are the hardest hit by HIV, with diagnosis rates twice that of white MSM. Interventions for black MSM are essential for reversing the epidemic in this population and efforts to address homophobia and related stigma, discrimination and violence are also needed.

  • Reduce the impact of prisons as a driver of new HIV infections. AIDS cases among incarcerated persons are more than three times that of the general population, and African- Americans are disproportionately represented in U.S. prisons. Providing routine, voluntary HIV testing for prisoners upon entry and release; making condoms available in correctional facilities; expanding re-entry programs to help prisoners transition back into society; and ensuring that their HIV prevention, substance abuse, mental health and housing needs are met prior to release are key to stopping HIV's spread in the African-American community.

  • Reduce the role of injection drug use in HIV infection. One in five new HIV infections is attributed to the sharing of contaminated needles through injection drug use. Helping current users to quit, and establishing needle-exchange programs to minimize the risk of infection from sharing needles have been identified as important steps.

Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus' Health Braintrust, put out a challenge to other members of Congress to implement the plan. "Are we willing to sacrifice another half-million African-American lives to this entirely preventable disease? It is up to the members of the newly elected 110th Congress to answer this question. The U.S. government is showing leadership in addressing the global pandemic, but we are failing to confront AIDS here at home," she lamented.

Based on material from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

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