‘NewsHour’ Examines ‘Growing New Concern’ of AIDS in Minority Populations
With African Americans making up more than half of all new HIV cases, health officials "are now concerned" that new HIV case data shows that AIDS is "becoming a disease of color," PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" reported last night. Dr. Helene Gayle, head of the HIV prevention program at the CDC, said that although some men will contract HIV from intravenous drug use, most contract the virus from having sex with other men. Gayle said, "We're seeing staggering rates of HIV infection among young African-American and also young Latino men who have sex with men. This is where increasingly the problem is going to lie." Maurice Franklin, program director for Gay Men of African Descent, said that AIDS prevention messages "have failed" in the black community because being gay is considered a "white lifestyle" by African Americans, and gay black men often hide their homosexuality. Franklin said, "[T]he stigma plays out in many ways within the black community. I think as a child, you are taught that it's not okay to be a sissy; that being gay makes you not part of the community, of the family, that you're less than a man; regardless of [the] ... education, or ... value you may bring to the community, there's this underlying or undercurrent of what is gay." Phill Wilson of the African-American AIDS Policy & Training Institute agreed that messages about HIV/AIDS often come from the gay white world. Wilson said, "[T]he messenger overwhelmingly continues to be white, and that's a problem for black people, I think, that unless we are explicitly included we're implicitly excluded. Now if the messenger doesn't look like me ... how can I trust that message will be relevant to me?"
Challenging the Community
According to "NewsHour," "[y]oung black men pose the toughest challenge for prevention workers." While "[y]oung people of all races tend to take more risks," a recent federal study of six cities showed that one in three young black gay men is HIV-positive. Gayle said, "Young people ... were not part of the first wave of the epidemic where they saw so many of their friends dying and took this epidemic seriously. ... With the new therapies, we've had tremendous successes; on the other hand I think that people have begun to think that HIV or AIDS is not so serious anymore. We see people returning to risk behaviors that could lead to increases in new HIV infections." For health care professionals working with HIV/AIDS, it is a "complicated picture which calls for complex solutions." Wilson said, "We keep looking for a magic bullet. You know, we keep thinking that well, if the church gets involved, then AIDS will go away. That's not true. The church ... [c]ivil rights organizations ... [f]amilies have a role to play. Social organizations and fraternities and black health care providers and the black media. Within the African-American communities there are all these institutions, and there is something for all of them to do" (Bowser, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," 5/30).