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Silent killer of Black American women

Ray Jordan | 10/3/2013, 1:33 p.m.
Kimberly Edwards, a recent college graduate, chooses a headstone for her mother’s grave. Seated to her left is Raymond Carroll with Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Edwards said that her mother died from AIDS, a secret the two kept from family and friends until her mother was too sick to hide it any longer. Photo by Robyn H. Jimenez

The Dallas Examiner

“If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of White women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.” These were the words of Hillary Clinton in June 2007 during a Democratic

presidential primary debate on the campus of Howard University. The words of then-Sen. Clinton place not only the epidemic of HIV/AIDS within context, but also highlights the seeming silence of the nation regarding the alarming rates of infection within the Black community, and particularly among Black women.

The first cases of what would later be known as AIDS were reported in the U.S. in June 1981. Since then, HIV diagnoses have been reported in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia. Over the past 30 years, nearly two million people have contracted HIV and of the estimated 690,000 persons who have died due to the disease, the Black AIDS Institute estimates that nearly 185,000 of them have been Black. While these numbers may be alarming, they are not new.

The rates of infection among Black America, and particularly Black women, rival those of sub-Saharan Africa, thus leaving HIV/AIDS activists and many within the Black community seeking answers and asking how the numbers of new cases have been able to swell to such disproportionate levels.

For Black women, HIV/AIDS has become a silent killer. Many public health advocates point to the changing face of the HIV victim as a leading cause of silence within the Black community. Initially known as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, HIV/AIDS was thought of as a “White gay disease.” However, the sharp increase of Black heterosexuals becoming infected has left many in the Black community unprepared to address the epidemic.

In response to the Washington, D.C., HIV/AIDS crisis, in which a city that is 60 percent Black and 1 out of 20 of its citizens have HIV and 9 out of 10 of all new cases are African American, Phil Wilson confirms (as quoted in the online newlestter LA Progressive), “the Washington data is really a microcosm of what we already know: that AIDS in America today is a Black disease.” Therefore, Wilson, who is president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, believes “it’s important for us to take just a moment to realize that we are where we are today because we weren’t concerned when we thought it was somebody else’s disease.”

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s primary source for monitoring HIV trends in the U.S., of the over 197,000 new cases of HIV diagnosed between 2008 and 2011, African Americans made up 47 percent. Meaning, though Blacks are only 12 percent of the population, they make up nearly half of all new cases of HIV, a number eight times that of their White counterparts. Moreover, of new diagnoses among U.S. women, 64 percent of those women are Black, putting the occurrence of HIV/AIDS among African Americans and specifically Black women into epidemic proportions.