When it comes to HIV and African-American women, good news doesn’t come as often as we would like.
But a recent study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives us some hope: New HIV infections overall have gone down 20 percent with Black women having the steepest drop of all. According to new data released this week at the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, between the years 2005-2014, new HIV transmission rates among Black women were cut nearly in half, from 8,020 to 4,623, a 42 percent decrease.
The CDC also found that 25 percent of that decrease occurred in the past five years.
It’s believed that these numbers are the result of an increase in awareness around HIV, the need to get tested and an influx of HIV/AIDS prevention programs, initiatives and campaigns geared toward African-American women, which have helped shape perceptions around risk factors. What’s also making a difference is that in 2010, President Barack Obama became the first president to create a national approach to combatting the AIDS crisis in the U.S. His National HIV/AIDS Strategy provides a federal framework for attacking the epidemic, prioritizing the communities that are most affected with increased programs and funding in hopes to dramatically reduce new infections by the year 2020.
In 2014, Black women accounted for 6 out of 10 new HIV infections among women in the U.S–that’s more than half. And when looking at race in general, regardless of gender, African-Americans account for 44 percent of all new cases each year, despite only making up 13 percent of the total U.S. population, notes the CDC.
And sadly, in this same study, the CDC found that HIV rates among Black gay and bisexual men weren’t as encouraging as Black women’s. Between the years 2005-2014, their rates had increased by 22 percent, staying steady since 2010. And younger Black gay and bisexual men ages 13-24 had the worst news: Between the years 2005 and 2014, their rates have done up a whopping 87 percent, with a 2 percent decline since over the past few years.
But why are African-Americans so burdened by this epidemic?
Obviously unprotected sex is a main route for HIV infection among African-Americans, but according to the CDC, Blacks report fewer risk factors (drug use, sexual partners and condomless sex) than whites, which one would think would mean Black rates would be less than whites. And contrary to popular belief, many trusted public health experts have debunked the notion that the down-low is fueling HIV in the Black community. So clearly, something else is at play.
Instead, experts point to structural factors that render Blacks more vulnerable such as: Disproportionate poverty; gender inequality, lack of access to quality health care, testing and treatment; mass incarceration that takes Black men out of the community leaving women to have to share the same male partner with one another; IV drug use and the lack of needle exchange programs; lack of attention to heterosexual Black men and HIV; lack of comprehensive sex education in schools; and higher rates of HIV in the Black community means African-Americans are more likely to come across the virus when having unprotected sex with others to name a few.
So with all being said, when is the last time you were tested for HIV?
HIV is 100 percent preventable. To learn more about HIV and how to protect yourself from the disease, visit CDC.gov/hiv.