HIV infection continues to carry a heavy stigma in the African American community, says Dr. Danica Wilson, medical director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Chicago. But it’s not the only barrier preventing African Americans from being more candid about their sexuality, or just coming flat out asking a sex partner, “Have you been tested?”
Religious beliefs, fear of a backlash from loved ones, and a general discomfort with openly talking about sex, particularly same-sex intimate partners, continue to factor into Black people’s decisions not to get tested or share their positive diagnosis with partners before having sex, she continued.
“People don’t want to ask because people get offended. It’s an issue with a lot of patients I see. We’re just trusting people,” she said, adding 90 percent of her patients are African American.
In time for World AIDS Day on December 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared with BlackDoctor.org the latest data on HIV infection rates in the U.S. The estimated number of annual new HIV infections declined 10 percent from 2010 to 2014. Among the good news: the diagnoses for women declined 20 percent during the same time period and among African American women, diagnoses declined 24 percent. In addition, after years of sharp increases, diagnoses among young African American gay and bisexual men (aged 13 to 24) declined 2 percent.
Blacks represent nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 45 percent of the HIV diagnoses from 2010-2014, the highest rate compared to other races and ethnicities. Infection rates among Black gay and bisexual men, overall, remained stagnant, rising 2 percent. In 2015, African American women made up the majority of Blacks living with AIDS at 58 percent.
African American gay and bisexual men accounted for the largest number of HIV diagnoses (10,315), followed by white (7,570) and Hispanic/Latino (7,013) gay and bisexual men. The data also included some alarming national trends, such as 1 in 2 people with HIV have had the virus at least 3 years before diagnosis, and about 40% of new HIV infections come from people who don’t know they have HIV.
Dr. Wilson said she is concerned that the perception in the Black community that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease continues to create barriers for Black women. “In general when people think HIV the first thing that pops in their head is a gay male. It goes along with the stigma of what HIV is as it relates to care and treatment and prevention,” she said.
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