by Natasha Travis, MD, FACP
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which occurs on February 7th of each year, was founded in 1999 by five national organizations funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide capacity building assistance for African American communities and community based organizations.
The founding organizations include Concerned Black Men of Philadelphia, Health Watch and Promotion Services, Jackson State University, Mississippi Urban Research Venter, the National Black Alcoholism and Addiction Council, and the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.
In Milwaukee this year several organizations hosted events including the United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) who held their National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Health Fair on Monday at HeartLove Place Ministries, located at 3229 N. Martin Luther King Dr.
In the United States, African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at the end of 2007, Blacks accounted for almost half of the people living with HIV infection; in 2006, Blacks accounted for approximately 46% of new infections in the US.
Reports have documented that the rate of new HIV infection for Black men was 6 times as high as that of white men, nearly 3 times that of Hispanic/Latino men, and twice that of Black women.
In 2006, the rate of new HIV infection for Black women was nearly 15 times as high as that of white women and nearly 4 times that of Hispanic/Latina women.
According to the CDC, it is estimated that at some point in their lifetimes, 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV infection, as will 1 in 30 Black women who live in the US.
Historically, Wisconsin has had low rates of HIV/AIDS morbidity compared with other states. As a matter of fact, in 2006, Wisconsin had the 10th lowest AIDS case rate in the US.
However, throughout the epidemic in Wisconsin, HIV infection has had a disproportionately high impact on minority populations. As reported by Wisconsin HIV Surveillance Data, even though race/ethnic minorities comprised 12% of the Wisconsin population, the HIV infection rate in 2008 was eleven-fold greater for African Americans and five-fold greater for Hispanics compared to the rate for whites.
Even more alarming is that although reported cases have increased among young men who have sex with men (MSM) throughout the state, young urban African American MSM have been disproportionately impacted.
More than one half (52%) of the estimated cases among young MSM reported in 2008 has been within the Milwaukee Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Within that area approximately 70% of young MSM reported with HIV infection in 2008 were African American. Stated simply, the number of young African American MSM reported with HIV infection in the Milwaukee MSA nearly tripled between 2000 and 2008.
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is an HIV/AIDS testing and treatment community mobilization initiative targeting African American communities.
There are four specific goals of the day: education, testing, involvement, and treatment. Education is an important goal of the day with national and local campaigns to teach African Americans about the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.
With testing at the core of this initiative, it is hoped that African Americans will mark February 7th of every year as their annual or bi-annual day to get tested for HIV.
The last goal is to encourage those living with HIV or newly testing positive for the virus to consider treatment.
Dr. Natasha Travis is Assistant Professor of Medicine – General Internal Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin and Immediate Past President – Cream City Medical Society