Three Things You Should Know On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Today marks the 13th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Begun in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and grassroots public health organizations, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was launched as part of a widespread effort to curb the rate of HIV infection among black men and women through “education, testing, involvement, and treatment.”

While it is well established that HIV/AIDS has had a devastating effect on people in developing nations — particularly India and much of the African continent — the epidemic has also been deadly for the United States’ black community. Here are three things to keep in mind about HIV/AIDS and black America today:

1. HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects African Americans and the urban poor. African American men accounted for 70 percent of new HIV infections in 2009, and overall, African Americans made up 44 percent of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. That translates to 20,000 black men and women in the United States testing positive for HIV every year — and that doesn’t account for the HIV-positive members of the black community who haven’t yet been diagnosed. All told, black Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans to be HIV-positive, and ten times more likely to die from the disease. The epidemic is divided among economic lines, too. The urban poor, overrepresented by African Americans in the country’s major metropolitan areas, are also burdened with unusually high rates of HIV/AIDS. Those living just above the poverty line are three times as likely to be infected than the national average, and those below the poverty line six times more likely to be infected than the national average.

2. GOP lawmakers have been slashing funding for HIV testing and treatment under Medicaid. Although the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommended that all community health clinics — which serve poorer regions — conduct free HIV testing, many centers haven’t had enough resources to follow through. And the issue has been exacerbated by Republican governors who have refused to implement Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Expanding Medicaid would extend insurance coverage to millions of low-income Americans, including more access to HIV testing and treatments. Instead, some GOP leaders are making aggressive cuts to their state-level Medicaid programs — like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who recently slashed a case management program for low-income HIV patients.

3. The future of HIV/AIDS treatment is bright. Despite the myriad of challenges facing the Americans who suffer from HIV/AIDS, public health officials remain optimistic about the coming years. The life expectancy for HIV-positive Americans has been steadily increasing due to more effective treatment regimens, and despite some lawmakers’ best efforts to undermine progress, access to HIV testing and coverage for treatments has been on the rise. And a cure may even be on the horizon — just last month, a team of researchers in Spain made an important breakthrough by creating a a new HIV vaccine that is much more effective — and less expensive — than any earlier attempts.