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'Persistent stigmas' fueling HIV in black community
Warning on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
"We have a national responsibility to alleviate the HIV/AIDS-related suffering of African-Americans by ensuring that they have full knowledge of—and access to—all proven forms of HIV prevention, treatment and care," Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Feb. 7, 2010, commemorating the 10th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
African-Americans continue to bear the largest and most disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. While black men and women made up 13% of the U.S. population in 2007, they accounted for more than half of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses that year and nearly half of all Americans living with HIV/AIDS. For black women ages 35 to 44, HIV was the third leading cause of death in 2006.
"As a nation, we must knock down the barriers that prevent many Americans, especially African-Americans, from receiving health care in general, and HIV testing, counseling and treatment in particular," he said. "An insidious component of this barrier is persistent stigma around homosexuality, HIV-positive status and injection drug use."
Fostering acceptance of all people, regardless of lifestyle, and encouraging discussions about the behaviors that increase risk for HIV infection will help create a positive climate for HIV prevention and treatment services in black communities, he said.
"I am gratified that Congress and President Obama recently lifted the 21-year-old ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs, which have been scientifically proven to reduce HIV transmission among injection drug users and serve as a gateway to treatment for drug addiction, HIV and other diseases," Fauci said.
One of the fundamental ways black men and women can reduce the spread of HIV in their communities and preserve their health is by getting tested for the virus during routine medical care, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Physicians, Fauci said. Identifying HIV infection early in its course is critical. A growing number of studies have shown that starting treatment early, while the immune system is still intact, is more beneficial to HIV-infected patients than initiating therapy later in the course of disease.
Another barrier to HIV care in black communities may be a reported reluctance among some individuals to start treatment for HIV infection before they feel sick. Research tells tell us that HIV-infected individuals are more likely to remain alive and healthy if they start treatment early—even if they feel well. Treatment for HIV may benefit not only the infected person who is receiving antiretroviral therapy, but also his or her sexual partner. Treatment with antiretroviral drugs lowers the amount of virus in bodily fluids, potentially decreasing the risk of HIV transmission. NIAID is conducting a clinical trial to test this hypothesis in collaboration with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health, all part of the National Institutes of Health, he said.