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Community mobilization

Ray Jordan | 12/16/2013, 7:47 a.m.
We’ve heard the alarming statistics. The HIV rate in Black America rivals that of sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 187,000 African Americans ...

The Dallas Examiner

We’ve heard the alarming statistics. The HIV rate in Black America rivals that of sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 187,000 African Americans have died due to HIV/AIDS. There are nearly 600,000 Black Americans currently living with HIV, and as many as 30,000 becoming newly infected each year. If Black America was its own country, it would rank 16th in the world for percentage of persons living with HIV. Black Americans only make up 12 percent of the nation’s population yet account for 47 percent of new cases of HIV and HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women ages 25-34. We’ve all heard the statistics, but what can be done about it?

HIV/AIDS is arguably the most serious health threat within Black America. However, for decades activists and public health advocates have insisted that, in regards to the federal government, they lacked a significant partner in the fight against the HIV epidemic. In 2008, the Black AIDS Institute issued a report entitled, “Left Behind: Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic.” In this report the institute describes feelings of abandonment and frustration surrounding their efforts to seek assistance from the federal government, most foundations, and almost all global health agencies. The cause, the report suggests, is the very fact that Black America is in America.

Although Black America is very familiar with the factors that make combating HIV in developing nations a challenge (such as poverty and the lack of education), the vast resources at the disposal of the United States causes foundations and global health agencies to neglect the crisis among African Americans. Yet, the magnitude of the nation’s response to HIV/AIDS has focused billions of dollars overseas while neglecting the crippling epidemic that brews within its own borders. This has left national, state, and local agencies and organizations scrambling for resources and new strategies to contend with the enemy among us.

The cruel irony of the nation’s domestic HIV/AIDS effort in contrast to its global one has caused national and state agencies to reconsider their own efforts. This reexamination has resulted in a national shift from centralized federal programs toward grassroots, community mobilization initiatives.

The introduction of more community- and grassroots-focused action is an attempt to both localize decision-making in regards to disease prevention and intervention as well as empower local stakeholders to take ownership of the crisis within their local community. In addition, this shift also represents a change in focus.

Traditionally, HIV prevention and intervention has happened solely at the individual behavior level. This caused all energy to be expended toward educating the individual about the disease and troubleshooting ways to modify individual behavior. While these efforts had some level of success, they often neglected the cultural and socioeconomic differences that make battling HIV/AIDS unique within Black America.

Rather focusing energy and precious resources solely on individual behavior modification, national organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Psychological Association, and the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors have partnered with state agencies to create momentum around initiatives that involve local communities-at-large advocating and influencing changes at the community, organizational and policy levels. These new community mobilization efforts have placed their focus on issues such as reducing disparities in income, housing, education and access to health care as well as the lingering effects of racism, sexism and HIV stigma that have created a unique vulnerability to HIV within Black America.