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African-American leaders launched a call to action to address HIV/AIDS in the black community at a Capitol Hill news conference last month. The aim is to halve the rates of new infections, reduce the stigma of AIDS, increase by a half both the number of people who know their HIV status, and who are receiving care for HIV infection.
“AIDS is a black disease no matter how you look at it—through the lens of gender, or sexual orientation, or age, socioeconomic class, education, or region of the country—black people bear the brunt of the epidemic,” said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Los Angeles based charity the Black AIDS Institute.
“Some 30% of new cases among gay men are among black men; 40% of new cases among men are black; 67% of new cases among women are black; and 70% of new cases among youth are black. That is why we are calling on this mobilisation.”
“Why are more than 50% of new HIV cases occurring within the African-American community when we are only 13% of the people?” asked Mohammad Akhter, executive director of the National Medical Association, which serves doctors and patients in the black community.
“We need to reassess the national strategy on HIV/AIDS to see why it is not working. If 50% of the new cases of HIV are in the African-American community, shouldn't that be where 50% of the resources should be going?” Dr Akhter said.
Mr Wilson acknowledged that earlier efforts to rally the black community to fight HIV/AIDS have fallen short. “The reason why I think this is different is that it is the first time there is a national coordinated effort of all sectors of the black community”—elected officials at all levels, the media, religious groups and megachurches, a celebrity task force, and the civil rights community.
One key element is the Test 1 Million effort to test that number of African-Americans for HIV by December 2008. “The testing itself is far less important than two other things,” said Mr Wilson. One is the dialogue that it will stimulate; the second is getting people into treatment.
He said, “Our strategy, by engaging specific organisations and sectors, is to get people to make specific commitments” towards a testing goal. The pop star Beyoncé Knowles will make this goal a part of her national tour.
The National Newspaper Publishers' Association will distribute a series of 25 columns on AIDS to more than 200 black owned newspapers throughout the country. Radio stations serving the community have made a parallel commitment.
Ronald Johnson, deputy director of AIDS Action, a group that lobbies in Washington on behalf of local AIDS charities, noted that many groups have called for the creation of a domestic strategic plan to tackle HIV/AIDS. It is something that the US government requires of other nations that it helps in the fight against AIDS but has never developed for itself.
We're the Ones We've Been Waiting for: the State of Aids in Black America . . . and What We're Doing About it, from the Black AIDS Institute, is available at www.blackaids.org/image_uploads/article_381/.pdf.