HIV and AIDS have had a disproportionate impact on African Americans from the beginning of the epidemic. In 1981, when the CDC reported the first five cases of AIDS, African Americans made up approximately 12% of the population—but 25% of people living with AIDS in the United States. Today, African Americans make up 43% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States. While that is a drop from the worst days of the epidemic, when African Americans made up 51% of all cases of HIV/AIDS, it is not acceptable.
It is important to remember that past as we observe National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). The NBHAAD theme, “We’re in This Together,” guides our work toward a future where HIV and AIDS are only memories. Through the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE) initiative, we’re making progress, although racial disparities in diagnoses, treatment, and viral suppression rates are still high due to stigma, fear, and discrimination.
The progress includes a dramatic decline in the number of African American women diagnosed with HIV. Between 2010 and 2017, new HIV cases among African American women dropped by 27%. However, African American women still make up 59% of all new HIV diagnoses among women in the United States.
We have the power to change these numbers and the lives of the people they represent. We know the geographic areas where HIV is most prevalent and, through EHE, we are targeting our resources in those areas to help people at greatest risk for HIV and AIDS and stop the epidemic in its tracks.
We also have the tools we need to make the epidemic history. For people living with HIV, we’ve got better treatment options that support them to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load and make them unable to transmit the virus to others (also known as U=U).
To prevent new cases of HIV, we have biomedical tools, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications and syringe service programs. Currently, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is increasing access to PrEP through the Ready, Set, PrEP program, which makes these medications available at no cost to thousands of Americans who need them but do not have prescription drug insurance.
We also have the leadership at all levels to make it happen, including the President who proposed EHE, the Congress that fully funded the initiative for the coming year, the Secretary and Assistant Secretary of Health who are leading HHS’s efforts, along with thousands of dedicated public health professionals, HIV healthcare and service providers, advocacy groups, and people living with HIV. Together, we will leverage our knowledge and tools effectively to address the disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS on African Americans and other vulnerable populations.
As part of your NBHAAD observance, I invite you to learn more about EHE and the Ready, Set, PrEP program. We are all in this together—and our goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States is in sight.