Los Angeles Times Looks at National Efforts To Address HIV/AIDS in the Black Community
The Los Angeles Times on Sunday examined efforts within the black community to address HIV/AIDS. According to the Times, a "growing number of [black] celebrities and leaders" are joining up with local activists, who "have worked for decades to draw attention to the toll of HIV in the black community."
Blacks account for almost half of the estimated 1.2 million U.S. residents living with HIV and represent 13% of the overall U.S. population, according to CDC data. Women account for more than one-third of AIDS cases among blacks, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
According to the Times, reasons for higher HIV prevalence among blacks include poverty, which can affect access to health care and cause depression; a widespread distrust of the health system, which "feeds conspiracy theories, such as one that holds that black people are deliberately infected with HIV when they get blood transfusions or have blood drawn"; and the black community's silence early on about HIV/AIDS. High rates of incarceration in low-income communities also contribute to the spread of HIV among blacks, the Times reports.
Wilbert Jordan, medical director of the Los Angeles-based OASIS Clinic at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center, said, "The black community is where the gay white community probably was in the late 1980s or early 1990s," adding, "But we're not where we need to be still."
In 2006, 16 mainstream black organizations, including 100 Black Men of America, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the National Council of Negro Women, made pledges to address HIV/AIDS in the black community. That same year, leaders from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took public HIV tests and made the tests available at their national convention.
The national "I Stand With Magic" campaign, an effort by former National Basketball Association player Earvin "Magic" Johnson and his wife Cookie, urges blacks to be tested and seeks to reduce new HIV cases among blacks by half. The five-year, $60-million project is funded by Abbott Laboratories.
The Johnsons also appeared together in a public service announcement that aired on YouTube and cable television in June. Filmmaker Spike Lee directed the ads. According to the Times, the participation of Cookie Johnson, "usually camera-shy," "is a sign of a growing outspokenness among [blacks] about the community's disproportionately high HIV rates."
"There's still a small part of our community that thinks, 'It can't happen to me,'" Cookie Johnson said.
Phill Wilson, director of the Black AIDS Institute, said, "We need a mass, coordinated initiative that really engages black institutions all over America, from churches to civil rights organizations to media to fraternities and sororities." He added, "The good news is that we are starting down that path. The bad news is that we're just starting" (Engel, Los Angeles Times, 7/6).