Washington, D.C., HIV Education Efforts Target Black Men Who Have Sex With Men on the ‘Down Low’
Educating black men who secretly have sex with men but who also have sex with women -- known in the black community as "down lows" -- is "crucial" to preventing HIV in a "community where it is quietly spreading," providers in Washington, D.C., say, WAMU News reports. Although the number of AIDS cases in the District of Columbia is down and the "highest rates," found among "homosexual men," have dropped 16% in the last decade, HIV infection rates in the city are still rising and are "harder to track." An estimated 17,000 HIV-positive people currently live in Washington, D.C., WAMU reports. HIV educator Contair Mossie said that informing "hard-to-reach" groups like "down lows" about infection rates is important because they hide their sexual activity from family and often engage in "very risky behavior." Mossie said, "They are very dangerous men. Because ... they will have unprotected sex, [thinking], 'I'm a straight man, I don't have to worry about catching AIDS.' ... And they're going home and sleeping with their wives and can't say, 'Oh well, honey, I just had homosexual acts with a man, so let me put a condom on.'" Mossie said that because "down lows" are also "reluctant" to seek HIV testing until they are symptomatic, a new group of black women is being infected with HIV. Ron Simmons, executive director of Us Helping Us, said that such "secretive behavior" is a product of "general homophobia." Simmons said, "You grow up in a society and a community that gives you no support whatsoever. You are condemned in your family, your school and your church." Simmons said that education to change attitudes will change behavior, so his outreach focuses on improving self-esteem. Whitman-Walker Clinic Executive Director Cornelius Baker said that he also stresses self-awareness, along with practicing steps to avoid spreading or catching HIV. Baker said, "It is talking to your partner, knowing your own HIV status, wearing a condom to reduce your risk and using a clean syringe. If we do these things, we can in fact win the war on HIV." WAMU News reports that "demands" by HIV educators and providers for more infection rate tracking "have been heard by local officials"; as of Dec. 31, the HIV/AIDS Administration for the D.C. Department of Health will institute "more complete" surveillance of the disease, including "fuller tracking" of HIV. The full report from WAMU's "Metro Connection" will be archived in Real Audio online (Johnson, WAMU News, 12/17).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.