In some “hot spot” U.S. cities, the HIV infection rate for African-American women is five times higher than the national rate — close to the rate in some African countries.
Researchers who conducted the study expected the rate to be higher in these urban areas, but after one year, 0.24 percent of the women in the study tested positive for HIV. That’s five times higher than the Centers for Disease Control’s previous estimate for African-American women. And the rate for African-American women surprised researchers in a field that focuses more on African-American and gay men.
The study showed that the annual rate of infection was 24 per 10,000 African-American women in six cities: Baltimore; Atlanta; Newark, New Jersey; New York City; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; and Washington, D.C. Nationally, African-American women’s rate is 5 per 10,000. In the Congo, it is 28 per 10,000.
“This disease is alive and well in this country,” said Dr. Carlos Del Rio, principal investigator for the Atlanta area of the study. “But this epidemic is the face of the forgotten people.” And the cities highlighted by the 2009 study, which included 88 percent African-American women and 12 percent Latina women, have high poverty rates:
“Along with the results, a lot of other statistics came out of this study,” said Dr. Sally Hodder, lead author of the study and professor of medicine at New Jersey Medical School in Newark. “Slightly more than 40 percent of the women did not know the HIV status of their last sexual partner. And more than 40 percent of our participants had an annual household income of $10,000 or less.”
And out of all the women enrolled, after a one-year follow-up, 10 had died of reasons unrelated to HIV.
“This just goes to show that women don’t just have HIV risk to worry about in these areas of the country,” Del Rio said. “I’ve had women look at me and say, ‘OK, I’m at high risk for HIV, but I’m also at high risk of getting shot.'”
Del Rio pointed out that other factors such as poverty, food insecurity, and substance abuse also increase the HIV risk. Rather than only offering information about AIDS, he said these cities also need better access to medical care for HIV screenings, substance abuse treatment, education, and job availability to lower the risk.
Dr. Patrick Chaulk, Baltimore’s assistant commissioner for HIV and STD services in the Health Department, said the city is targeting all high-risk groups in its plan to cut the HIV infection rate by 25 percent by 2015. He said much of the city’s resources go toward men because they account for two-thirds of new cases. Nationally, the CDC reports that men make up three-quarters of new cases.