Painted data regarding National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day image

The CDC report shows that African Americans accounted for nearly half of all HIV diagnoses in 2018.

February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. First observed in 1999, the day focuses on increasing HIV education, testing, treatment and community involvement. To mark the day, many states have held virtual symposia, offered free testing and outlined steps being taken to reduce the number of new cases among African Americans.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Ahead of this year’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the CDC released a report on the state of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. Although significant efforts have led to an overall reduction in HIV transmission and new reported cases in the United States, this trend has not caught on in the black community. CDC data shows that African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV infections. Although 13% of the US population in 2019, the black community made up 40% of Americans living with HIV. In total, black people accounted for almost half of all HIV diagnoses in 2018. That was four times the rate of all other racial and ethnic groups combined.

Breaking down the data further, the highest rates of HIV diagnosis among black men were among those aged 45 to 54, living in the northeastern or western United States. Among black women, the rates were highest among those aged 18 to 54, living in the Northeast. Intravenous drug use was a leading cause of transmission in both males and females. And although people living with HIV are living longer and healthier lives as a result of interventions, black women have the highest rate of premature death of all people living with HIV. While young people between the ages of 13 and 24 accounted for 21% of new HIV cases in 2018, young black people accounted for a disproportionate amount of those cases.

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Credit: CDC

Regarding HIV and COVID-19, the study also found that African Americans living with HIV were among those with the lowest vaccination rates. This is of particular concern given that people living with HIV and other chronic conditions have an increased risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to those without other chronic conditions.

“Despite tremendous progress in reducing HIV transmission since the peak of the epidemic, HIV continues to disproportionately affect black people in America,” said Demtre Daskalakis, director of the HIV prevention program of the CDC. While structural inequalities remain at the root of HIV prevalence among African Americans, Daskalakis thinks that doesn’t have to be the case. “Health disparities are not inevitable and can be addressed.”

The report also found that 52% of African Americans living with HIV live in areas with a higher Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) score. Using 15 U.S. Census variables, SVI scores track “potential negative effects on communities caused by external stresses on human health.” Although the CDC identifies these stresses as natural or man-made disasters and epidemics, communities with higher SVI scores tend to be African Americans with lower socioeconomic status.

Daskalakis says the findings underscore the need to address the factors that contribute to disparities. “While there is no simple solution to equity, our nation must finally tear down the wall of factors – systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, HIV-related stigma and other entrenched barriers. – that still prevent these HIV tools from reaching the people who could benefit from them equitably.”

Candice Marie Benbow is theGrio’s daily lifestyle, education and health editor. She is also the author of Red Lip Theology: For Church Daughters Who Have Considered Tithing at the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @candicebenbow.

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