Aids in the African American Community
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a condition thought to be caused by a virus in which the body’s white cells lose their ability to protect against infections. AIDS was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV progressively destroys the body\’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers by killing or impairing cells of the immune system. Individuals diagnosed with AIDS are susceptible to life-threatening diseases called opportunistic infections, which are caused by microbes that usually do not cause illness in healthy people.
More than 600,000 cases of AIDS have been reported in the United States since 1981, and as many as 900,000 Americans may be infected with HIV. The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations and is a leading killer of African-Americans. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), AIDS is six times higher in African-Americans than among whites. African-Americans make up 12% of the United States population, yet 47% of all AIDS cases are African-Americans. This is obviously a disproportional relationship. The CDC also says that whites make up 71% of America’s population; however, only 32% of all AIDS cases involve whites. The CDC also says that over 65% of all pediatric AIDS cases are black children. Without continued study and analysis of the current crisis, the epidemic will surely worsen.
The population of African Americans living with AIDS has been increasing, due largely to the availability of more effective treatments but also due to the increasing impact of the epidemic on minorities in the U.S. Estimated AIDS prevalence among African Americans increased by 150% since 1993, compared to a 68% increase among whites. In 1998, the number of African Americans estimated to be living with AIDS surpassed that of whites for the first time. Advances in treatment have also led to a significant reduction in the number of deaths among people with HIV/AIDS across all racial/ethnic groups. However, the rate of decline among African Americans has been slower than among whites. Estimated deaths among African Americans with AIDS declined by 49% between 1993 and2001, compared to an 80% decline for whites.
African Americans are more likely to face challenges associated with risk for HIV infection. Some of those risks are poverty, lack of medical insurance, distrust in medical establishments, denial of sexual orientation, and drug use. One in four African Americans lives in poverty. Studies have found a direct relationship between higher AIDS incidence and lower income. With all the recent advances in HIV diagnostics and therapies, the lifetime cost of healthcare associated with HIV infection is 155,000 or more per person. The United States continues to be one of the only industrialized nations to see health care as a privilege for its populations. This view impairs many from seeking health care.
Some African Americans are reluctant to acknowledge issues, such as homosexuality that are associated with HIV infection. Some health experts believe that a double lifestyle by men, called being on the down low, contributes to the spiraling AIDS rate among African Americans. White and Hispanic men also hide their sexual orientation from their heterosexual partners, but for African American men, the pressure is greater. African American men who identify themselves as gay face ostracism from their families and communities. Many black men are reluctant to admit their sexual identity even to themselves. A significant number of African-American men who have sex with men identify themselves as heterosexual. African-American women are most likely to be infected with HIV as a result of sex with men who have sex with men.
Intravenous drug use is the second leading cause of HIV infection for African-Americans. Sharing needles is not the only HIV risk related to substance abuse. Casual and chronic substance abusers are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
African Americans are less trustful of medical establishments as a result of The Tuskegee Experiment. For forty years between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. They were told that they were being treated for bad blood. The doctors had no intention of curing them of syphilis at all. The data for the experiment was to be collected from autopsies of the men, and they were deliberately left to die under the ravages of tertiary syphilis.
By the end of the experiment, 28 of the men had died directly of syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected, and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis. In 1990, a survey found that 10 percent of African Americans believed that the U.S. government created AIDS as a plot to exterminate blacks, and another 20 percent could not rule out the possibility that this might be true. As paranoid as this may sound, at one time the Tuskegee experiment must have seemed equally farfetched.
There are several factors that have contributed to the alarming rates at which African American are contracting HIV/AIDS. The social stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, stigmas concerning homosexuality, lack of educational programs, and advocacy and impaired judgment are some of those factors. Only through increasing understanding, supporting AIDS prevention programs and shattering myths can the battle against HIV/AIDS in the African-American community be won.
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