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Not enough Blacks receiving HIV treatment

Freddie Allen | 2/17/2014, 9:19 a.m.
Even though Blacks get tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, more than other groups, health care providers continue ...
Phill Wilson says no one cares about HIV-infected Blacks more than other Blacks. Freddie Allen

The exponential growth of HIV infections among Black men is largely driven by the infection rates of Black MSMs. Black MSMs accounted for more than half (51 percent) of the new infections, followed by heterosexual females (25 percent) and heterosexual males (13 percent). In a 2008 study, 28 percent of Black MSMs were HIV positive compared to 16 percent of White MSMs.

Phill Wilson, the chief executive officer of the Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused on Blacks, said that being a Black male and being gay can make it harder for people who need treatment to get it.

“It’s the double jeopardy at the nexus where racism, homophobia and sexophobia – the fear of talking about sex – come together,” Wilson said. “The combination has created barriers to the actual research on the [Black MSMs] or the desire to do research in this population.”

Wilson noted that Black men also suffer higher rates of unemployment than their White counterparts. Not having a job can end up closing another door to health care for Black men.

According to the Labor Department, Black men 20 years old and over had a 12 percent unemployment rate in January, compared to White men in the same age group who had a 5.2 percent unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate for Blacks teens (16-19 years old) is the highest in the nation at 38 percent, compared to a White teen jobless rate of 17.5 percent.

Although Wilson said that the Affordable Care Act would help some Blacks get treatment for HIV/AIDS, most Blacks live in Southern states where many Republican lawmakers refused to expand Medicaid, blocking millions of state residents from affordable health care.

In September 2011, the CDC awarded $55 million in grants to 34 community-based organizations to focus on HIV prevention, testing and education among gay, bisexual and transgender youth of color.

In a statement on the grant program, Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said the AIDS “epidemic cannot be overcome without effectively addressing the severe and rising toll of HIV infections among gay and bisexual men of color, who continue to be hardest hit by this disease.”

Under the program, CBOs in the South will receive 44 percent of the funds. In 2008, more than 40 percent of minority MSMs were diagnosed in the South.

McCree also touted The Care and Prevention in the United States Demonstration Project designed to increase testing and prevention and improve the rate of newly diagnosed minorities linked to and retained in care. Total funding for the CAPUS project is $44 million.

Wilson said that it is possible to break the back of the AIDS epidemic.

“What the Black community has to understand is that nobody is ever going to care about us as much as we care about ourselves,” he said. “As long as we think that it’s okay for Black people to get infected, and to get sick, and to die from the AIDS, the rest of the world is going to think that it’s okay.”

Wilson suggested developing a cadre of Black MSMs that can be funded to do research on Black MSMs.

“The research agenda needs to be in alignment with the demographic of the epidemic,” Wilson said. “You can’t stop the epidemic, if you ignore the most at-risk population.”