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HIV/AIDS Effort Targets Blacks

Black Press USA.com, News Report, George E. Curry Posted: Apr 22, 2009

After leading the global effort to reduce HIV/AIDs, the federal government is finally directing more attention and financial resources to the epidemic at home by focusing on African-Americans, the group that bears the brunt of the disease, and aggressively enlisting the help of community-based groups.

At a news conference here last week, officials from the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced a 5-year communications campaign, called the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, that will focus on education, prevention and treatment and using 14 nationally-known Black groups, including the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), to make people aware of the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

Act Against AIDS seeks to put the HIV crisis back on the national radar screen, said Melody Barnes, assistant to the president and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Our goal is to remind Americans that HIV/AIDS continues to pose a serious health threat in the United States and encourage them to get the facts they need to take action for themselves and their communities.

No community has been more devastated than African-Americans.

Although Blacks represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for half of all diagnosed AIDS cases. Black women account for 61 percent of all new HIV infections among women, a rate nearly 15 times that of White women. Black teens represent only 16 percent of those aged 13 to 19, but 69 percent of new AIDs cases reported among teens. One study found that in five major U.S. cities, 46 percent of Black men having sex with men were infected with HIV, compared to 21 percent of White men having sex with men.

An analysis by the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles disclosed that if Black America were a separate country, the number of African-Americans with HIV would rank 16th in the world, with more infected people than Ethiopia, Botswana and Haiti.

Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDCs National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said the new federal initiative complements other work done by the CDC to combat AIDS.

The Act Against AIDS campaign works directly to confront complacency and put the U.S. HIV epidemic back on the front burner, back on the national radar screen, Fenton stated. The campaign is designed in phases and will feature public service announcements (PSAs) and online communications as well as targeted messages and outreach to the populations most severely affected by HIV.

He explained, We will begin with African-Americans and future phases extend to Latinos and other groups, including other populations of gay and bisexual men.

The first phase of the campaign was created the raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. A new Web site, NineAndaHalfMinutes.org, has been created to provide basic information about prevention, testing and treatment.

A site notes, Before we can stop any epidemic, we first have to recognize the magnitude of the disease. HIV is still a threat across the United States. And even though there are treatments to help people with HIV live longer than ever before, AIDS is still a significant health issue.

It lists the following facts:
Every 9 minutes (on average), someone in the United States is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
In 2006, an estimated 56,300 people became infected with HIV.
More than 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV.
Of those 1 million people living with HIV, 1 out of 5 do not know they are infected. (People who have HIV but don't know it can unknowingly pass the virus to their partners.)
Despite new therapies, people with HIV still develop AIDS.
Over 1 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with AIDS.
More than 14,000 people with AIDS still die each year in the United States.

The second phase, set to begin this summer, will focus on African-Americans. To assist many cash-strapped organizations, the CDC is providing many groups $100,000 to hire an AIDS coordinator, thus insuring the issue will gain higher visibility in each organization. In addition to the NNPA, the partner groups are: 100 Black Men of America, American Urban Radio Networks, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, National Action Network, NAACP, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, National Council of Negro Women, National Medical Association, National Organization of Black County Officials, National Urban League, Phi Beta Sigma and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Reducing the disproportionate toll of HIV in Black communities is one of CDCs top domestic HIV prevention priorities, and African-American leaders have long played an essential role in this fight, Dr. Fenton said. This new initiative will further harness the collective strength of some of the nations leading African-American organizations to reach directly into the communities they serve with critical, life-saving information.

Fenton credited Phill Wilson, president of the Black AIDS Institute, and C. Virginia Fields, president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, with helping the CDC to craft a broad community-based approach to curbing HIV.

Ironically, the decision to expand communications efforts comes at a time when the public seems less knowledgeable about AIDS. Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said his organization recently conducted a major public opinion survey that produced some troubling findings.

We found that the percentage of the American people who say they have seen, heard or read a lot about HIV/AIDS in the U.S. has fallen from 34 percent five years ago to just 14 percent today, he said. The percentage for African-Americans reporting this has fallen from 62 percent to just 33 percent.

Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, spoke on behalf of the 14 partner organizations. She said, If were going to deal with this great disease, which really is preventable in our communities, in our lives, it will take all of us, all of our organizations, our elected officials, our government agencies like CDC, our businesses, our churches, our labor groups and our universities.

She explained, By taking the steps we can to protect ourselves and loved ones, and by refusing to remain silent, today, we are here to say that we have a sense of how we must work together to overcome this disease.

Related Articles:

Center Gives L.A. AIDS Patients New Hope

The Closeted Nature of Some Black Men

Local Organizations Meeting AIDS Pandemic Head On

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