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For Immediate Release: February 5, 2013
Contact: National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
(404) 639-8895

"A Day to Remember and to Act"

Statement from Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The 13th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day will be observed on February 7th. This is a day to remember and increase awareness of the devastating impact of HIV in African American communities. It is also a day to act.

More than 30 years into the epidemic, African Americans continue to bear the greatest burden of HIV in the United States. Although comprising just 14 percent of the U.S. population, blacks account for half of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, nearly half of all new HIV infections in the United States and half of all those who have died with AIDS in this country.

Within African American communities, HIV is far-reaching – affecting men and women, gay and straight, young and older alike. Young African American men – particularly gay and bisexual youth – are, by far, the most severely affected population and account for more new infections than any other group in the nation. And while recent data indicate that new HIV infections among African American women are declining for the first time in over a decade, this hard-hit group accounts for 13 percent of all new infections and are far more affected by the disease than women of any other race or ethnicity.

Despite these statistics, there is hope. Today, we have more powerful tools than ever to aid us in the fight against HIV. Our first commitment must be to use them.

For example, we know that newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals who start medical treatment can live long and healthy lives. Early treatment also dramatically reduces a person’s risk of passing the virus to another person. Yet, sadly, CDC’s research shows that HIV-positive African Americans are least likely to be in ongoing care and have their virus under control when compared to other racial groups. We must work to ensure that HIV-positive African Americans are connected to – and stay in – effective care and treatment to protect their health and their partners.

In addition, the recent Food and Drug Administration approval of a once-daily pill to reduce the risk of HIV transmission has the potential to make a significant impact in reducing HIV among those at highest risk, including women and gay and bisexual men. But, for this new biomedical breakthrough to dramatically reduce new HIV infections, those at risk must be aware of the prevention strategy, be able to access it, and use it consistently.

Second, we must make a commitment to confront the underlying factors driving the disproportionate burden of HIV in African American communities, such as addressing the high proportion of African Americans living with HIV.

One key contributing factor is the high proportion of people living with HIV in many African American communities. As a result, African Americans face a greater risk of infection with every sexual encounter. Other factors include: stigma and homophobia, which may prevent many from seeking HIV prevention; economic barriers and lack of insurance, which can limit access to HIV testing, treatment, and care; higher rates of incarceration among African American men, which can disrupt the stability of social and sexual networks in the broader community and decrease the number of available partners for women, helping to fuel the spread of HIV; and higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections, which can facilitate HIV acquisition and transmission.

At CDC, reducing HIV infections among African Americans is an important priority. By pursuing a High-Impact Prevention approach, we are delivering the best prevention tools in ways that will have the greatest impact among African Americans and other populations at risk.

Last year, CDC launched an innovative $43 million, 3-year initiative aimed at reducing health disparities in communities of color by addressing the social, economic, clinical and structural barriers to prevention and care. We recently expanded a multi-million dollar testing initiative to reach more African Americans to offer HIV testing. And through CDC’s national communications campaign, Act Against AIDS, we are raising awareness and increasing HIV testing among African Americans, including those communities hardest hit by the disease.

This is encouraging progress, but we can and must do even more.

Within our communities, we must create safe spaces in our homes, schools and places of worship to talk openly and honestly about HIV. Leaders – both within and outside African American communities – must continue to shine a light on the U.S. HIV epidemic. Individuals can also do their part by getting tested for HIV. If you are sexually active, use condoms consistently and correctly to protect yourself and your partners. If you inject drugs, use clean needles and never share them. If you are a person living with HIV, get and stay in treatment and take the necessary steps to prevent HIV transmission to your partners.

To get to the finish line, we need bold, unified action and leadership at all levels. We each have a role to play. We must all ask ourselves: What action are we willing to take today?