"Testing Makes Us Stronger," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new HIV testing campaign targeting young black gay and bisexual men, is the federal government's first foray into specifically asking gay and bisexual men help stem the wave of new HIV infections.
The Atlanta-based CDC determined figures that show that in 2006, there were 4,400 HIV infections among black gay and bisexual men ages 13-29. The numbers jumped to 6,500 infections in 2009 within the same age group, for a momentous increase of 48 percent. This subpopulation represents the only subpopulation in the U.S. to experience a statistically significant increase of new HIV infections during these three years.
Kevin Fenton, the openly gay director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said black gay and bisexual men are one of the population's hardest hit by HIV and "the name for this campaign could not be clearer."
"This is the first time the federal government is focusing a national campaign on gay and bisexual men and to black gay and bisexual men," Fenton said in a telebriefing with reporters on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
Gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnic backgrounds continue to be the hardest hit — of the 1.2 million people in the U.S. living with HIV, nearly half of them are gay and bisexual men.
CDC estimates that men who have sex with men (MSM) account for just 2 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009. Gay and bisexual men accounted for 49 percent of people living with HIV infections in 2008.
Another recent CDC study found that in 2008, one in five (19 percent) of gay and bisexual men in 21 major U.S. cities were infected with HIV, and nearly half (44 percent) were unaware of their infection. In this study, 28 percent of black gay and bisexual men were HIV-infected, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men and 16 percent of white gay and bisexual men.
Other racial/ethnic groups of MSM also have significant HIV infection rates, including American Indian/Alaska Native MSM (20 percent) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander MSM (18 percent), according to the CDC.
In 2009, white gay and bisexual men accounted for the largest number of new HIV infections of any group in the U.S., followed closely by black MSM, according to the CDC.
The campaign was devised with the help of black gay and bisexual men working with the CDC, Fenton explained. The campaign is one part of the solution in halting the spread of HIV by showing a compassionate message designed to empower black gay and bisexual men and ensure they feel "safe, wiser and stronger," he added.
Kali Lindsey, director of legislative and public affairs for the National Minority AIDS Council, was among the black gay and bisexual men who helped design "Testing Makes Us Stronger." Lindsey was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2003.
"We cannot just stop at testing black gay and bisexual men. We have to change the hearts and minds" of society," he said. The stigma surrounding HIV and being gay must also be part of the campaign to stop the spread of HIV, he said, by using a "more compassionate" approach.
The "Testing Makes Us Stronger" campaign (click here to connect to its Facebook page) cost a total of $2.4 million and is part of the "Act Against AIDS" program initiated by the White House in 2009 — a five-year, $45 million investment.
"These men haven't seen each other represented in HIV campaigns in the past," said Richard Wolitski, deputy director of the Behavioral and Social Science, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC, in August. "I think this campaign is a huge step forward."
The campaign will be released in 2012 and
• A series of national online and magazine print ads in outlets targeting black gay and bisexual men.
• Outreach through multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and blogs targeting black gay and bisexual men.
• Billboard and transit advertising, with a special focus on five key U.S. cities where black gay and bisexual men are heavily affected by HIV: Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, New York, and Oakland.
• Promotional materials, such as posters, postcard and palm cards, for distribution at community venues. These will be available online for community-based organizations and health departments to download and use locally.
• Outreach activities and materials at Black Pride events across the country.
• Tailored campaign materials for use by health departments and community organizations across the nation.