In addition to the celebration of Black History, February has also been set aside to bring awareness about HIV and AIDS in the African American community.  Recently, the Health and Wellness Ministry at New Hope Baptist Church, (in Baton Rouge, LA),  did a presentation after worship on HIV/AIDS.  The information shared was startling…

African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV in the United States. Blacks account for more new HIV infections, people estimated to be living with HIV disease, and HIV-related deaths than any other racial/ethnic group in the US. The facts are staggering:
  • African Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population, yet represent 45% of all U.S. AIDS cases.
  • At some point in their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 African American men and 1 in 32 African American women will be diagnosed with HIV infection.
  • The rate of new HIV infection in African Americans is 8 times that of whites based on population size.
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana currently rates #1 with new AIDS cases per capita with 7,792 persons living with HIV or full-blown AIDS in Baton Rouge.

African Americans face a number of challenges that contribute to the higher rates of HIV infection.
  • African American communities continue to experience higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared with other racial/ethnic communities in the United States. Having an STI can significantly increase the chance of getting or transmitting HIV.
  • Almost 85,000 HIV-infected people in the African American community in 2010 were unaware of their HIV status. Diagnosis late in the course of HIV infection is common, which results in missed opportunities to get early medical care and prevent transmission to others.
  • Stigma, fear, discrimination, homophobia, and negative perceptions about HIV testing can also place too many African Americans at higher risk. Many at risk for HIV fear discrimination and rejection more than infection and may choose not to seek testing.

HIV testing is integral to HIV prevention, treatment, and care.  Studies show that those who learn they are HIV positive modify their behavior to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Early knowledge of HIV status is also important for linking those with HIV to medical care and services that can reduce morbidity and mortality and improve quality of life. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine HIV screening in health-care settings for all adults, aged 13-64, and repeat screening at least annually for those at high risk. Risk behaviors include having:
  • injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, works) with others
  • had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners
  • exchanged sex for drugs or money
  • been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis, or a sexually transmitted disease, like syphilis
  • had unprotected sex with anyone who falls into an above category, or with someone whose history is unknown.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), requires or incentivizes new private health plans, Medicare, and Medicaid to provide preventive services including HIV testing at no cost to patients. HIV testing is mandatory in the U.S. in certain cases, including for: blood and organ donors; military applicants and active duty personnel; federal and state prison inmates under certain circumstances; and newborns in some states. HIV testing is recommended for all pregnant women and for any newborn whose mother’s HIV status is unknown. 

Lack of knowledge can kill. Hosea 4:6  Do you know your status?  
aids.gov provides a locator service to help find a testing center near you.  

References:  Baton Rouge AIDS Society, Kaiser Family Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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