At Conference, NIAID Director Discusses Early HIV Detection, Transmission Rates Among African Americans
Providing treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women early in their pregnancies can "dramatically reduce" the risk of vertical HIV transmission, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said Saturday at a Washington, D.C., conference sponsored by Howard University and a drug company, the AP/Augusta Chronicle reports (AP/Augusta Chronicle, 2/9). The conference was attended by pastors, church activists, educators and others in an effort to get black religious organizations more involved in HIV prevention (Goldstein, Washington Post, 2/10). Fauci said that early detection and treatment among pregnant women can cut the rate of vertical transmission to "less than 1%." He also spoke about the "changing nature" of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, noting that a disproportionate number of HIV infections are occurring among blacks. Fauci said that black Americans have been infected with HIV at a rate that is 10 times higher than the rates among other ethnic groups (AP/Augusta Chronicle, 2/9). He said that while the black community has shown signs in recent years of "getting mobilized and shining a bright light on the problem," he urged the audience to "turn on the afterburners, because the leadership is going to have come from you."
Black Leaders Urged to Overcome Stigma
Other health officials, advocates and educators speaking at the conference also urged black religious groups to use their positions to raise HIV/AIDS awareness within the black community, the Washington Post reports. Conference panelists said that the failure among black churches and community groups to openly address HIV/AIDS has contributed to the rising rates of the disease among black Americans. "You've got to talk about these things, because the hard reality is that people are dying," Derrick Harkins, pastor of the District of Columbia's 19th Street Baptist Church, said, adding, "One of the biggest culprits in the African-American community has been silence. How can we act as if nothing is happening?" Tracy Pace, a Washington, D.C., social worker, said, "The black community is already stigmatized, and when you add a disease that's associated with sex, it's a taboo subject. The voice of the black church needs to be heard" (Washington Post, 2/10).
Awareness Day Events
Some black churches and other groups around the country planned events related to last week's observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The following is a round-up of some of the events and ongoing programs of such organizations:
- Kingdom Baptist Church in Charles County, Md. -- which has a predominantly African-American congregation -- has instituted a program to pay teenagers $200 to take an eight-hour AIDS awareness training course, attend periodic meetings at the church and speak to at least five friends every month about AIDS, the Washington Post reports. The 12 students who signed up for the program last fall also received condoms to distribute to friends. About 84% of AIDS cases in Maryland -- which ranks fifth in the nation in AIDS incidence -- occur in the African-American community. "It might be strange to some people that there's such a frank discussion about sex in a church," Angela Brown, a pastoral assistant at the church, said, adding, "But the fact is that AIDS is hitting the African-American community harder than any other, and as a church we can help reach those people. If we can help save lives, we'll do whatever we can" (Reel, Washington Post, 2/10).
- The St. Louis-based Blacks Assisting Blacks Against AIDS on Thursday staged a "mock funeral" to illustrate the disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS has had on the African-American community, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. "In spite of new treatments, people are still dying of AIDS, particularly African Americans," Erise Williams, executive director of the organization, said. Among the 36 people participating in the "funeral" march, some held placards that read, "Protect and Respect Yourself" and "Know Your Status, Get Tested for HIV." The casket, which "mourners" filed past, contained a mirror "symboliz[ing] the fact that 'you could be next. Your loved ones could be next,'" Rev. Walter Robinson said (Shelton, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2/7).
- Alameda County, Calif., health officials and community leaders met on Thursday to discuss the factors that contribute to higher rates of HIV/AIDS among African Americans in their community, the Oakland Tribune reports. A speaker at the community meeting indicated that poverty "has such a grip" on many African Americans that some engage in "survival sex" in exchange for rent money or food. "Getting AIDS is way down on the list of things [poor African Americans] think about," another speaker said. In Alameda County, health officials have declared a state of emergency because of the high AIDS case rates among African Americans (Bailey, Oakland Tribune, 2/8).