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Global AIDS Fight Neglects U.S.

Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: Aug 14, 2008

t's an all too familiar image President Bush and First Lady Laura surrounded by cheering children and families in sub-Sahara Africa hoping to cement a positive part of his legacy as champion of the U.S. global fight against AIDS.

The president's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PERFAR, will spend $48 billion over the next five years to help treat and prevent AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 15 targeted countries and is considered a showpiece of Bush's presidency.

"This is really a story of the human spirit and the goodness of human hearts," Bush said during a recent ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

But the Black AIDS Institute said in a report released last week, U.S. policies and cash may be leading the fight against AIDS globally, but they have neglected the epidemic among Blacks at home.

The report comes on the heels of just released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) findings that the U.S. AIDS epidemic is worse than thought.

"More HOV, are infected with HIV than the total population of people living with HIV in seven of the 15 countries served by PERFAR," said Black AIDS Institute CEO Phil Wilson.

"Yet...the U.S. response to AIDS in Black America stands in sharp contrast to the international response to the epidemic overseas."

Dr. Helene Gayle, former head of AIDS for the CDC and now president of the poverty fighting charity CARE, said many AIDS infected Blacks are not in traditional high risk groups such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers.

Black women involved in high risk heterosexual contact were the source of 80% of all newly diagnosed infections according to the CDC. In 2006 of the 147,500 women living with HIV/AIDS, 64% were Black.

"The federal government's approach to the epidemic in Black America is fundamentally flawed," said Gayle. This includes a lack of funding and poor targeting of the money.

Inland Empire HIV/AIDS advocate, Patricia Green-Lee, CEO of Brothers and Sisters in Action (B.A.S.I.A.) agreed.

"The U.S. is more interested in fighting the war on AIDS in Ghana than in San Bernardino. The number of HIV cases is soaring and local grass roots organizations are struggling against a growing tide of Black migration from poor communities in Los Angeles County.

Green-Lee says data supports many AIDS infected Blacks pushed out of LA County return for testing, treatment and other essential services, because those resources aren't readily accessible in Riverside-San Bernardino counties. She says critical federal funds once allocated for Inland counties are being shifted to LA County AIDS programs.

July 11 B.A.S.I.A hosted "What's Killing Us", its first annual Health Summit. She explains Black American women are 23 times more likely than white women to become infected with the AIDS virus.

"If this epidemic were about white females, money would flow like water. Instead Black organizations are forced to fight over crumbs." Green-Lee's organization is dedicated to increasing HIV/AIDS awareness and education among San Bernardino County's African American communities. She announced that the California Endowment stepped to the plate in July awarding the organization a $35,000 grant.

"Year after year people in the trenches grass roots people like me struggle to fight this epidemic with little or no money," said Green-Lee who says she regularly uses money from her monthly Social Security payments to pay for telephone, printing and other essential AIDS education expenses.

She said B.A.S.I.A. launched in the late 90's survives largely on funding and support from the private and business sectors, the Inland Black medical community and local Black churches. The SB County Board of Supervisors has given the organization a total of $10,000.

"Every penny counts, but when you're faced with educating generations of people stigmatized by deep seated myths about sex, disease treatment and prevention, $10,000 though a help is - a drop in the bucket."

Green-Lee says often lost in discussions on HIV/AIDS is the fact nobody has to get HIV. "It's 100% preventable. But prevention means educating and dealing with sexual issues in a practical forthright manner."

She says funding and the Bush administration's policies on AIDS are often tethered to abstinence-only methods which don't work in high risk communities.

"Stressing abstinence-only is good. But information about condom use and needle exchange frowned upon by the government is a vital component to outreach. We need unbiased funding and focused education campaigns that battle myths about disease transmission, as well as conspiracy theories that perpetuate mistrust of the medical system."

Last year, 14,000 Americans died of AIDS. That brings the U.S. AIDS death toll to more than 545,000 men and women.

"We all have to do more as individuals and as a nation," says Green-Lee "Bush's overseas fight against AIDS is laudable - but my message to him is: "Mr. President, charity begins at home."

The Black AIDS Institute report is sure to stir the political pot on the global fight against AIDS. The CDC released findings Sunday, delayed since October, showing that the annual U.S. infection rate is 40% more than previously estimated. The report says 56,300 people became newly infected with H.I.V. in 2006, compared with the 40,000 figure the agency has cited as the annual incidence of the disease since 1998.

Black AIDS Institute's Wilson says nearly half of all new U.S. cases are among African-American men and women.

"Were Black America a separate country it would elicit major concern and extensive monetary assistance from the U.S. government. Instead, the national response to AIDS among Black Americans has been lethargic and often neglectful."

Related Articles:

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Candidates Silent on AIDS in Black Community

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