HIV/AIDS and African-Americans

By Ronald Turner

The epidemic of persons infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus ("HIV"), the virus which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome ("AIDS"), continues to be a critical problem facing the nation and many individuals in African-American communities. Consider the following data:

-- African-Americans (comprising approximately 13 percent of the population of the United States) make up approximately 57 percent of all new cases of HIV infection. On a daily basis, approximately 100 African-Americans are diagnosed with AIDS.

-- Black women comprise two-thirds of all HIV infection cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- AIDS (not homicide, cancer, or heart disease) is the leading cause of death among Black persons between the ages of 25 and 44.

-- Fifty eight percent of all children in the United States with AIDS are Black; two-thirds of new pediatric AIDS cases involving children under the age of 13 are Black children; and the number of African-American children infected with HIV is greater than the number of infected children of all other races combined.

-- Forty one percent of all persons with AIDS in the United States are African-American. Extrapolating from current trends, by the year 2005 Blacks will account for more than 60 percent of all infected persons.

-- In 1995, the African-American rate of AIDS related to injection drug use was 50.9 per 100,000 in population; the corresponding rate for whites was 3.5 per 100,000.

-- A recent public opinion survey of 811 randomly selected African-American adults, conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, revealed the following: 56 percent of African-Americans polled responded that AIDS was a serious problem for persons they knew; 50 percent were concerned about being infected with HIV (24 percent of a sample of the national population had the same concern); 49 percent knew persons who had HIV or had died from AIDS; 52 percent believed that AIDS is the nation's leading health problem; and approximately 66 percent of all respondents said that government spending on AIDS was insufficient.

The scope and severity of the problem of HIV and AIDS in African-Americans was and should have been anticipated given the historical difficulties experienced by many African Americans in gaining access to health care systems, the "fact that African Americans as a group receive lower levels of routine and preventive health services that other ethnic groups," the underdevelopment of community infrastructures, and the "economic inequity, social distance, discrimination, and social stratification" experienced by many African-Americans and other people of color. National Commission on AIDS, The Challenge of HIV/AIDS in Communities of Color (Dec. 1992), at pp. 2, 14, 32. Policymakers and social and governmental institutions within and outside of Black communities must take note of and respond to the reality and devastation reflected in the data set forth above, and vigilance and concerned voices must replace the apathy and silence noted by journalist Cynthia Tucker: If 100,000 black people had been murdered by right-wing militias, black America would have taken to the streets demanding retribution. If 100,000 black people had been killed accidentally by the recklessness of a major American corporation, blacks would have rallied to shut the company down. But the black death toll from AIDS--100,000 and climbing--has met only apathy and denial from major black organizations. Cynthia Tucker, "Blacks' silence can be as deadly as AIDS," Atlanta Journal and Constitution (Mar. 22, 1998), at p. 7G.