Straight Black men sidelined in AIDS fight

FREDDIE ALLEN | 9/26/2015, 8:30 a.m.
Heterosexual Black men were largely invisible at the 2015 United States Conference on AIDS last week, a long-term absence that ...
Justin Wooley, a consultant with the Black AIDS Institute, speaks during a session on raising awareness about PrEP among heterosexual Black males at the Institute’s annual PrEP summit in Washington, D.C. Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Heterosexual Black men were largely invisible at the 2015 United States Conference on AIDS last week, a long-term absence that will continue to impact the future of the AIDS epidemic in the Black community.

One in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 102 White men who will share the same fate.

Even though heterosexual Black women continue to outpace their White and Latino counterparts in the rate of HIV infections, little attention was paid to the role that straight Black men should play in combating the epidemic in the Black community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blacks account for 44 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States.

The CDC reported that heterosexual males account for 13 percent of the new HIV infections among Blacks, while women make up 25 percent and men who have sex with men account for 51 percent.

In 2010, the same percentages of undiagnosed HIV infections among men were attributed to male-to-male sexual contact (19 percent) and heterosexual contact (19 percent).

The CDC also reported that, “From 2000 to 2010, HIV infection was the 7th leading cause of death overall for black men, but was not a leading cause of death for other races/ethnicities.”

Health care providers struggle to bring heterosexual Black men into the health care setting, other groups protest louder and garner desperately needed resources.

Dawn Smith, a clinician and researcher at the HIV/AIDS prevention division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that Black men who have sex with men have a group identity that straight Black men lack.

“[Black MSM] want to get in a room together, because they have issues that they want to discuss,” Smith said. “Straight men don’t have that.”

The Black AIDS Institute, a national HIV/AIDS think tank focused on the Black community, hosted a summit on pre-exposure prophylaxis one day before the start of the 2015 United States Conference on AIDS that featured a breakout session designed to help health care providers introduce heterosexual Black men to PrEP.

PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent in people who take the medicine, compared to those who don’t take PrEP at all, according to http://www.aids.gov.

Kier Gaines, a college and career development counselor at Kingsman Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., and co-facilitator for the session on men, said that for Black men specifically, health is usually only a concern when symptoms develop, “but you can contract HIV and for all intents and purposes you can look and feel fine for months.”

Gaines said that getting straight Black men into the room to even talk about HIV prevention is a tall order.

Smith said straight Black men grapple with health care in ways that MSM and women don’t.

“A lot of men feel like being sick is being weak and so they don’t want to talk about health,” Smith said.

Gaines encounters the same resistance pushing men to get tested for HIV as he does encouraging Black men to get prostate exams.