Since opening its doors in 1999, the Black AIDS Institute has led several projects and campaigns designed to raise awareness of HIV’s differential impact on African American communities. We have enjoyed tremendous success, as one leading Black institution after another has signed up to help individuals understand that this epidemic is ripping our neighborhoods apart. However, just being aware of a threat is only the first step in confronting it.
A recent RAND Corporation study makes this fact all too clear. RAND surveyed African Americans about HIV/AIDS and found widespread belief in “conspiracy theories” about the origin of the virus and government efforts to withhold treatments and cures from those in our community who are infected. These beliefs stem from an undeniable reality: Public health has consistently failed Black America, often deliberately neglecting its needs. In this context, conspiracies about HIV persist because the community has not been adequately informed about the actual political and cultural forces driving the epidemic. The Time is Now! is the first in a series of Institute reports that aim to fill that information void.
The Time is Now!, authored by BlackAIDS.org editor Kai Wright, explains the policies and politics that have helped shape the epidemic and our nation’s response to it. It then articulates the challenges we face in reshaping and ultimately stopping this epidemic. As with all of our publications, The Time is Now! speaks not merely to AIDS experts, but to those members of our community who may have just become aware of the problem and now need information on how and where to get involved.
Getting this information out, and helping African Americans join the fight, has never been more crucial. Each year, the epidemic worsens in Black neighborhoods. And each year the national commitment to interrupting HIV’s spread and caring for those who are already infected further lags. “For Black America, the moment of truth has arrived,” says the Institute’s Executive Director Phill Wilson. “If we’re going to survive this epidemic, we are going to have to gather all of our resources and marshal them for the struggles that lay ahead.”
In the decade since groundbreaking treatments began to slow HIV’s carnage, the epidemic has grown steadily more Black and brown. No matter how you slice the numbers—young or old, male or female, gay or straight—this epidemic is attacking Black people most aggressively.
Yet, as the splintering epidemic deepens in Black neighborhoods, America’s response to it grows weaker each year. From media attention to government funding for the programs that HIV-positive African Americans overwhelmingly turn to for care and treatment, all signs show the nation moving on from the domestic AIDS epidemic.
Meanwhile, substantive efforts to establish or widen the prevention programs most likely to interrupt the epidemic in Black neighborhoods have ceased.
Once positive, African Americans are more likely to advance to an AIDS diagnosis, more dependent upon publicly financed care systems, and die sooner than any other group.