Last week it was revealed that HIV cases have been underestimated by 40 percent for a decade.
This new study was recently presented at the 27th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. Researchers from Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control presented these new numbers but they were quick to add that these new numbers do not mean that the epidemic is getting worse; rather the numbers were just off. The figure was previously thought to be at 40,000 new cases per year, but with the advent of new medical technology the number of new cases is actually closer to 56,300 per year. The numbers of newly infected has remained relatively constant since the late 90s, it just a much bigger number. I guess that is the good news.
The bad news outweighs the good in the scenario: the epidemic is not getting worse, it’s just worse than we initially understood. Since the rates have been undercounted for so many years, there have been thousands of missed opportunities to prevent infection. If you’re not dealing with right numbers, how can you make the right assessment and offer the best solutions? A group more than one third larger than originally estimated has literally slipped through the fingers of health professionals and public health officials, because they didn’t know they existed. It’s abundantly clear, we don’t have firm grip on HIV in the United States.
Perhaps the grip is so tenuous because mostly gay, African American and Latino men are bearing the brunt of the epidemic. Fifty-six percent of new AIDS cases are young gay African American men, according to CDC numbers from the year 2006. To be more precise: young Black men who have sex with men. Moreover, if the overall number has jumped, even if the percentage hasn’t, we’ve got a huge problem on our hand. How huge? Half a million Black are still infected in the country and at a rate of 30,000 a year. And even though these new antiretroviral drugs are amazing, can lead people to live a healthy longer life, AIDS is still the #1 killer of young Black women ages 24-35. It’s the second leading cause amongst Black men 35-44.
This is not a gay disease. This is not a Black gay man disease. This is a Black disease. A Black woman in the US in 23 times more likely than a White woman to be diagnosed with full blown AIDS. Please let me digress, the statistics that show 1 in 2 Black MSMs are newly infected with HIV every year. MSM is the term, men who have sex with men. That is a horrifying number. It might be enough to scare my Black butt straight, if I were gay or a man.
This umbrella term includes out of closet men, those brothers on the much talked about “Downlow”, and anyone in between. Fascinatingly enough, Black MSMs often consider themselves Black before gay, so they are torn. Many Black men do not like to be categorized by who’ve they have sex with, so they don’t consider themselves gay. I know an old hairdresser of mine, who obviously was into guys, never once said he was gay. It is very much like when Black women had to decide between Hillary and Obama. The Woman or the Black Person? Who did we choose? Obama. It’s an internal conflict that its part of these men’s everyday lives.
Prevention messages are not reaching their targeted audiences because Black MSMs don’t consider themselves gay. It’s hard to get the message out to folk, when you don’t know how to convey the message. It’s even harder to get the message about to folk about being careful, using protection and seeking healthcare when there is no money to do so. Since 2002 the Bush administration has decreased the CDCs prevention budget by 19 percent
The number is so scary to me because we’re talking about guys my age, my peer group, and my friends, who are at the highest risk for new infections. Black young men are not leading more risky behavior either. Most Black MSMs lead sex lives that are less risky, but the likelihood that you’ll encounter HIV is ridiculously higher. The risk and rate is so much higher because as a whole the Black community has more infection. It’s having a snowball effect.
Black leaders held a press conference during the AIDS Conferences because they are furious over the lack of funding and prioritization by the US government the Black community with in its own nation. While Bush has cut back funding domestically, he just approved $39 billion dollars to fight the global epidemic. This is great, but not when within our own country we’re spending considerably less, $700 million to be exact. Plus fighting AIDS in Africa will not solve all on the continents problems.
The snowball effect within the Black community will continue without proper funding, as we will continue to have poverty, lack of access to healthcare, all of which leads to a higher infection rate of other STDs and voila new HIV infection will continue to increase. The snowball becomes an avalanche.