First observed in 1999, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) raises awareness surrounding the unequal effects of HIV on Black/African American people. This day highlights the importance of HIV prevention through education, testing, and treatment, in addition to addressing health inequities Black communities face with HIV treatment and engaging in care.
What is HIV?
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) affects an individual’s immune system and makes it hard for the body to fight off illnesses and infections. HIV is commonly spread through unprotected sexual activity and sharing drug injection equipment.
It is important to note that HIV and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are not the same. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. While there is no cure, HIV can be treated with medication allowing those living with HIV to have long, healthy lives.
Black Communities and HIV
While making up only 13% of the U.S. population, Black/African Americans accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses. In comparison, White Americans make up 75% of the U.S. population and account for 26% of new HIV diagnoses, proving the unequal impact of HIV in Black communities. But why? HIV stigma, discrimination, and poverty are major barriers to HIV testing and treatment. Also, historical mistrust in the healthcare system by the Black community makes seeking out these services even more difficult.
HIV is preventable. Abstinence and condom use with lubrication are ways to prevent HIV. However, testing for HIV is the only way to know your HIV status and can prevent the spreading of HIV to others. Rapid HIV testing is available, providing results in twenty minutes. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone from 13 to 64 is tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime. Several local organizations including health departments and community health centers provide free HIV testing.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that can be taken to prevent HIV. PrEP is available as a daily pill or bimonthly injection. Despite its proven effectiveness, those who would benefit the most have not been prescribed this safe, preventative option. In 2019, only 8% of Black/African Americans who qualified for PrEP were prescribed the medication, contributing to the growing gap between HIV prevention and care and Black/African American communities.
While we raise awareness, it is important to recognize the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to be done. As providers, parents, and caregivers it is important to have discussions about HIV and sexual health. The more conversations we have, the more awareness will be raised beyond National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
The FACES Program offers FREE HIV and STI testing. Services are available to both adults and adolescents with no appointment necessary.
Katherine Redden is an outreach coordinator in the HIV 340B Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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