Battling HIV in the black community

Truvada, or PrEP, is a medication that can reduce HIV infection by more than 95 percent. Health officials consider it an important HIV prevention tool. Photo: Gilead Sciences.

Today, February 7 , is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. In the United States with each passing day, HIV is becoming more of a disease that disproportionately impacts blacks/African-Americans.

HIV DATA

The national data is disheartening, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black, primarily gay/bisexual/same gender loving men and transgender women, make up nearly half of the new infections. And worse, we account for too many HIV-related deaths.

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HIV A BLACK DISEASE

Why is HIV becoming more of a black disease? HIV – for the most part – is now a manageable, chronic illness. Thanks to all the advances in HIV treatment and prevention, we can end AIDS as we know it. There is a drug that can prevent HIV infection called PrEP. One pill a day has a more than 95 percent chance of keeping the HIV away, the CDC said.

For people who are living with the virus, one not only can live a longer and healthier life, but they can also eliminate the possibility of transmission if taking their meds as prescribed, aka Undetectable equals Untransmittable (U=U).

LACK OF HEALTHCARE ACCESS

All these advancements have changed the trajectory of this social disease, but do not forget that there are social determinants of health: mainly healthcare access, and in the history of the United States, African-Americans have been the group least likely to have access to treatment, which also means the least likely to benefit from medical advancements like PrEP and U=U.

Many remember the AIDS Crisis of the 80’s and 90’s with infected people, dying often alone while their bodies wasted away. Many people talk about that time as what happened back then — a long time ago.

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USING ARCHAIC TOOLS

But for people who look like me and who love like me (black gay men), we talk about these stories not from decades ago, but in the present day. Black people are far too often still fighting AIDS with the archaic tools of the past, while the HIV prevention and treatment toolbox has been improved, expanded, and refurbished for so many others.

SOLUTIONS

What would help?

Employers must not restrict access to PrEP for employees with health insurance, such as what the Publix grocery chain did last month. After intense public pressure, Publix reversed itself Tuesday.

Also, people should not have to submit to means testing or have a nominal job to have access to Medicaid, which happened in Kentucky.

Both situations require access to tools that help guarantee a better life in our country. Without that access, these challenges are nothing more than barriers to prevention and treatment disproportionately impacting black people. Means testing actually means only one thing: more infections and more HIV-related deaths.

About the author

Ace Robinson

Ace Robinson is an HIV commissioner for South Los Angeles and board director at the Avielle Foundation, where he in the USA wherein he works to end violence through brain-health research. He also supports the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, a leading global entity focused on the eradication of AIDS and reduction of HIV.