Black America has suffered tremendous losses in the last year. With the passing of Delores Tucker, Rosa Parks, and now Coretta Scott King, the ranks of brave leaders who stepped forward during the heady days of the late fifties and early sixties have become desperately thin. As we nurture and develop the next generation of great Black minds and spirits, we must think about today’s challenges to the just society Dr. King looked to build.
Mrs. King was among the first and most courageous of the traditional Black civil rights leaders to articulate a connection between today’s epidemic and the struggle for justice. “AIDS is a human crisis, no matter where you live,” she told a gathering of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “Anyone who sincerely cares about the future of Black America had better be speaking out about AIDS, calling for preventive measures and increased funding for research and treatment.”
Those words have never rung more true. Today, the Institute releases its annual report on the State of AIDS in Black America. This year’s volume, The Way Forward, concludes that the story of AIDS in 2006 is one of an epidemic increasingly divided.
The stunning racial divide of AIDS in America persists, with African Americans accounting for half of all people living with HIV/AIDS today. But we now also begin to see a divide even within the Black epidemic. In those areas where we have been willing to take meaningful action, we have seen progress. In those areas where we have let petty politics, subjective notions of morality and the unrestrained pursuit of profit in healthcare economics reign, we have seen the epidemic deepen.
The report first examines those areas where the epidemic is deepening:
- Stunningly high infection rates among Black men who have sex with men. In one Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, 46% of Black gay and bisexual men in five cities tested HIV positive.
- An epidemic growing without adequate resources in the South. At the end of 2004, eight of the 10 Blackest epidemics were in the South, in each of which at least 60% of residents living with AIDS were African American;
- A heightening treatment access crisis. In states all of the country, both Medicaid and Ryan White CARE Act programs are struggling to remain operative as their caseloads grow and resources fail to keep pace. Two-thirds of Blacks getting treatment for HIV/AIDS pay for it with public health insurance.
But the report also points out where we are succeeding, examining why and urging more bravery in the areas where we have not yet seen progress:
- New infections dropped by 6% among Black women between 2000 and 2003, driven by prevention programs that encourage open, honest dialogue about sexual health. Black women, however, continue to represent two-thirds of all female AIDS cases.
- Overall, new infections among African Americans saw an average annual decrease of 5% between 2000 and 2004. That trend was driven in significant part by New York City’s success in lowering infections among injecting drug users.
Finallly, and most importantly, the report provides recommendations for how Black American can move forward in reaching the mountaintop by removing the barrier of HIV/AIDS. Leaders must lead. We must demand expansion of proven prevention work, protect access to treatment, get ourselves educated about the disease, and end the debilitating stigma still surrounding it.