This week I had the opportunity to attend the "Testing Makes Us Stronger" launch event, held at the Auburn Research Library, located in downtown Atlanta. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Fulton County Health Department launched this new $45 million dollar initiative to bring more awareness to the Black HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States
Special guests at the event included Kevin Fenton, M.D., Ph.D., FFPH, Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP) and Patrice Harris, M.D., Director of Fulton County Health Services.
As a community activist, and parent of two young African American boys, I like to broaden my knowledge and understanding of key issues that are affecting society as a whole, and particularly the African American community. After the event, I sat down and spoke with Monica Ponder, public health professional, social entrepreneur and freelance health writer to discuss the importance about getting the word out about this new initiative and to learn more about National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
(Q): Can you tell me a little bit more about National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day?
(A): February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). The theme for this observance day is, “I Am My Brother/Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS!” – which holds much significance as we reflect on opportunities to bring an end to the spread of HIV in the United States. African Americans continue to bear the greatest burden of HIV in the nation.
While we have more reason than ever to be hopeful in the fight against HIV, we have a lot to do. African Americans make up just 14 percent of the population and accounted for 44 percent of all new infections in 2009
(Q): How startling are the HIV/AIDS statistics in the African American community?
(A): Since the start of the epidemic, nearly a quarter of a million African Americans with AIDS have died. In 2009:
- Black women accounted for 30 percent of the estimated new HIV infections among all blacks. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for black women was more than 15 times as high as the rate for white women, and more than three times as high as that of Latina women.
- Black men accounted for 70 percent of the estimated new infections among all blacks. The estimated rate of new HIV infection for black men was more than six and a half times as high as that of white men, and more than two and a half times as high as that of Latino men or black women.
- Black men who have sex with men (MSM) represented an estimated 73 percent of new infections among all black men, and 37 percent among all MSM.
(Q): What prevents people from getting tested?
(A): We cannot afford to lose a single life and we cannot allow this epidemic to continue. While we each have a personal responsibility to protect our own health, we must also tackle the root causes of HIV in black communities. We know that if one does not have access to health care, he/she may not get an HIV test or treatment. HIV rates are associated with geographic residency, poverty, education, employment, and homelessness.
Further, higher rates of incarceration among African Americans have led to imbalanced ratios of men-to-women in black communities, which can help fuel the spread of HIV. Additionally, higher levels of other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among African Americans may also place individuals at higher risk for contracting HIV. Lastly, stigma and homophobia, which are far too prevalent in all communities, continue to prevent many African Americans from seeking testing, treatment or support.
(Q): How do we become each other’s keeper?
(A): It is important that we talk openly about HIV in our communities, with our partners, peers and families. HIV is entirely preventable and it is important to know that if you are sexually active, you are at risk for contracting HIV. Abstaining from sex, mutual monogamy, routine condom use, HIV testing, and treatment are key to prevent or reduce the spread of HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages persons with increased risk for HIV to get tested annually. If you have been diagnosed with HIV, seek treatment early and remain on treatment in order to prolong life and to reduce transmission.
More information on national and local NBHAAD events can be found at www.nationalblackaidsday.org.
To learn more about how you can get involved in the fight against HIV, please join www.actagainstaids.org.
To find a testing location nearest you, please visit www.hivtest.org.
Monica Ponder is an experienced public health professional, social entrepenuer and freelance health writer. Specializing in designing effective health communications for local and national nonprofits and civic organizations, Monica is the principle consultant for MLP Communications. MLP Communications is an emerging leader of health communications in metro-Atlanta, with an impressive portfolio of events, successful partnerships and campaigns – including numerous public services announcements, Atlanta’s First Family Fitness Challenge (May 2011), establishing lactation rooms in public places for breastfeeding mothers through its Table for Two campaign (August 2011), and engaging one of the communities hardest hit by the HIV epidemic through the Atlanta is Greater Than AIDS campaign (June 2011).
To follow health news and issues that are relevant to your community, or to find ways to support health events in your community, please visit www.freecondomsandlollipops.com.
Sojourner Marable Grimmett is an Atlanta-based author who is recognized for writing about the joys and challenges of being a “stay-at-work” mom and connects with moms, both new and experienced, who have the responsibility of raising a family and maintaining a full-time job. Sojourner has been featured in FitPregnancy, iVillage, MacaroniKid.com, BlackCelebKids.com, MyAtlantaMoms.com, WhatToExpect.com, BlackandMarriedwithKids.com, Fox News, and CNN. She is married to her college sweetheart, Roland and they have two young sons, Roland Jay and Joshua. Visit her blog sojournermarablegrimmett.blogspot.com follow her on twitter and like her on Facebook. Also join her new campaign to support establishing lactation rooms in public places www.supporttablefortwo.org.