Reach African-Americans with prevention message

They make up more than half of AIDS cases

While African-Americans account for just 12% of the U.S. population, the impact of the AIDS epidemic has taken a disproportionate toll on them. More than half of all AIDS cases in 2002 in the United States were among African-Americans, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"HIV testing and treatment are particularly challenging for African-Americans, as they are generally less likely to have access to health care in general," says Hazel Dean, ScD, MPH, associate director for health disparities in the CDC’s National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention. "In addition, they are more likely to test late for HIV, when treatments may not be as effective."

African-American men represented 41% of HIV cases reported among men in 2001.The leading cause of HIV infection among African-American men is sexual contact with other men, according to data reported to the CDC through 2002.1

Public health officials are troubled by a recent HIV outbreak among black male college students in North Carolina.2 In interviewing the men, researchers found that in the year prior to their diagnoses, 4% said they had sex only with women; 58% said that they had sex only with men; and 33% said that they had sex with men and women.3 Such findings may point to men who "live on the down low," those who describe themselves as heterosexual and have same-sex partners, but do not disclose that information to their heterosexual partners.4

Communities reach out

African-Americans are banding together to address the AIDS crisis in the form of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day (NBHAAD). The annual event, which held its fourth observance on Feb. 7, 2004, was co-founded by five national organizations: Concerned Black Men of Philadelphia, Jackson (MS) State University — Mississippi Urban Research Center, the Washington, DC-based National Black Alcoholism and Addictions Council, and the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and the Health Watch Information and Promotion Service, both based in New York City. These five groups are collectively referred to as the Community Capacity Building Coalition, The coalition is funded by the CDC through the National Minority AIDS Initiative.

The national mobilization effort is designed to encourage African-Americans across the United States and territorial areas to get educated, get tested, and get involved with HIV/AIDS prevention. While NBHAAD is a nationwide movement, organizers focused 2004’s efforts in 16 metropolitan areas with high African-American HIV/AIDS prevalence: Atlanta; Baltimore; Chicago; Cleveland; Dallas; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; New York; Oakland, CA; Philadelphia; Raleigh-Durham, NC; Trenton, NJ; and Washington, DC.

While national organizers still are tallying the results from the 2004 event, more locales came on board to spread the prevention message, says LaMont Evans, executive director of Concerned Black Men of Philadelphia. More than 200 locales registered an event or activity in the 2004 observance, he reports.

"More churches and health departments were involved this year as opposed to last year," says Evans. "We had a variety of spokespersons come on board this year who provided public service announcements, which are on the web site, www.blackaidsday.org."

The event web site allowed individuals to plan events or activities for their locale, as well as to register their events on-line, explains Evans. [To check out the available support materials, including a CDC-prepared HIV/AIDS fact sheet, go to the web site; click on "NBHAAD Information," then "NBHAAD Toolkit."]

Event organizers used several innovative ways to reach into communities with the prevention/ testing message, says Evans. Orlando organizers collected 1,100 pair of shoes to represent the current HIV infections in their county, while Philadelphia and Los Angeles organizers conducted marches and rallies. Washington, DC, held a health fair in a municipal building on payday for city employees. Other events included free HIV/AIDS testing sites, prayer breakfasts, town hall meetings, and memorial services.

What can you do?

Testing and prevention are the keys to curtailing the HIV crisis among African-Americans, says Dean. The CDC is partnering with communities to bring new rapid HIV testing to places where African-Americans live, work, and congregate, such as churches and community centers, she notes.

"We have already purchased 250,000 tests with 250,000 more to come, and have conducted 20 regional rapid HIV testing training sessions for health departments and community-based organizations that plan to conduct rapid HIV testing," Dean reports.

How can you participate in HB HAAD 2005?

"The Community Capacity Building Coalition is in the process of developing strategies and ways to providers to be better engaged for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day 2005," Evans offers. "Stay tuned to the web site for more information."

References

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV/AIDS Among African-Americans. Web site: www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/presskits/saapa/hivaa.htm.

2. Hightow LB, MacDonald P, Pilcher CD, et al. Transmission on campus: insights from tracking HIV incidence in North Carolina. Presented at the 11th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. San Francisco; February 2004.

3. Altman LK. New HIV test identifies cases in college students. New York Times, Feb. 11, 2004: A18.

4. Mitchell D. HIV stalks African-American college students. Reuters, Feb. 10, 2004. Web site: www.ucsfhealth.org/childrens/health_library/reuters/2004/02/20040210elin021.html.