Friday, August 1, 2008

Have We Turned Our Backs on Black Americans with HIV/AIDS?

While the Bush Administration admirably enacted a $48 billion five-year extension of the program PEPFAR to battle HIV/AIDS and malaria overseas, the HIV/AIDS infection rate is the United States is climbing to equally alarming numbers among Black Americans. But the U.S. does pathetically little to address it's own epidemic.

The Black AIDS Institute recently issued a report which finds that AIDS in segments of Black America is as severe as in many African Countries, but receives much less attention.

"More Black Americans are infected with HIV than the total populations of people living with HIV in seven of the 15 countries served by PEPFAR," noted Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute and one of the authors of the report, referring to the U.S. government’s program of extraordinary aid for countries severely impacted by the epidemic. "Were Black America a separate country, it would elicit major concern and extensive assistance from the U.S. government. Instead, the national response to AIDS among Black Americans has been lethargic and often neglectful."

In areas of the United States such as New York City HIV levels among segments of the Black community approach those of many severely affected countries in Africa. For example, HIV prevalence among middle-aged Black men in Manhattan is almost as high as overall prevalence in South Africa, home to the world’s largest population of people living with HIV.

Tragically, while the U.S. government requires countries receiving PEPFAR support to have a national AIDS strategy in place, the United States itself has no strategy for its own epidemic
- no strategy while thousands of our most vulnerable citizens become infected with the virus every year.

In fact, an estimated 100,000 New Yorkers are living with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. More than one-third are women. Women of color, especially African-American and Latino women in low-income neighborhoods are at highest risk. 82% of all women living with HIV/AIDS are women of color. A significant number of these women are mothers with young children.

Unable to manage their health, maintain employment and care for their children, thousands of women with HIV/AIDS watch hopelessly as their lives fall apart and they slide deeper into poverty. Without the proper support, too often these women lose their independence, their self-esteem and their determination to provide and care for their children.

We all need to refocus our attention on the epidemic in our own backyard. Reach out and help those organizations that provide services. Here's a few that need your help.

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