Honor World AIDS Day by fighting to preserve access to health care
MARC H. MORIAL | 12/11/2017, 1:52 a.m.
National Urban League
“Let us also continue to ensure that our Nation responds aggressively and humanely to the needs of people living with HIV and AIDS. Throughout this epidemic, community organizations have taken the lead in the struggle against the disease and in efforts to provide compassionate care to those in need. Across this country and around the globe, generous people perform miracles every day—holding a hand, cooling a fever, listening, and understanding. Let us further support their efforts to build a better world by strengthening the partnership between communities and government in the work to stop AIDS.” – President William J. Clinton, proclaiming the first U.S. recognition of World AIDS Day.
In the United States, HIV – the virus that causes AIDS – affects African Americans more than any other group. According to the Centers for Disease Control, African American account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses, those living with HIV and those ever diagnosed with AIDS compared to other groups. In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, African Americans accounted for 45 percent of HIV diagnoses, while comprising only 12 percent of the US population.
World AIDS Day, which occurs each Dec. 1, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.
Since 2009, the National Urban League has partnered with the CDC to prevent HIV and AIDS and raise awareness – first, through the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative and more recently as part of Partnering and Communicating Together to Act Against AIDS.
One in 8 people living with HIV in the United States don’t even know they have it. Not only are they not receiving HIV care and treatment, they are at high risk of unknowingly passing HIV to others. Because there is such a high prevalence of HIV among African Americans, and people tend to have relationships with partners of the same race and ethnicity, African Americans face a greater risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.
Another contributing factor to the high rate of HIV and AIDS among African Americans is the relatively higher poverty rate. Lower-income people have limited access to high-quality health care, housing, and HIV prevention education.
We are at a moment in history where the heath care of millions of middle-class and low-income Americans is threatened, which would only serve to make the problem worse. Because the tax reform proposal recently passed by the Senate is expected to add at least $1.5 trillion to the national debt, it’s likely the imbalance will be offset by cuts to programs, including Medicaid.
Medicaid is the single largest source of coverage for people with HIV in the U.S. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Medicaid expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act has had the most far reaching effects on people with HIV.
We will continue to fight for those living with HIV, those at risk and the entire community not only through our participation in PACT, but also through our health care advocacy and economic empowerment efforts. World AIDS Day may be once a year, but the battle for justice goes on.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through http://nul.iamempowered.com.