National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Puts Focus on Need to Address Equity and Drivers of HIV Disparities in U.S.

Content From: Harold J. Phillips, MRP, Senior HIV Advisor and Chief Operating Officer for Ending the HIV Epidemic, Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: February 04, 20213 min read


Harold J. Phillips
Keith Mumma/Kalamazoo College

This year’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) observance comes amidst a national dialogue on systemic racism and calls for a greater focus on equity in all our work. We should use this opportunity to examine and address historic inequities experienced by Black Americans. For the HIV community, this means working to understand and address the circumstances that put people at risk for HIV or that create barriers to HIV care and treatment.

Black Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV compared to other racial/ethnic groups. According to CDC data,

  • Black Americans represent 13% of the U.S. population, but 41% of people with HIV in the U.S. in 2018.
  • 42% of new HIV infections in 2018 were among Black Americans.
  • Among the estimated 161,800 people in the U.S. with undiagnosed HIV, 42% (67,800) are Black. That means that nearly one in seven Black Americans with HIV are unaware of their HIV status and are not receiving the care they need to stay healthy and prevent transmission to others.

Fewer Black Americans in HIV care are virally suppressed: In 2018, 60% of Blacks, 64% of Latinos, and 71% of whites with diagnosed HIV were virally suppressed.

The recently released HIV National Strategic Plan (HIV Plan) makes clear the disproportionate impact of HIV among Black Americans, and includes Black women, transgender women, people who inject drugs, and Black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men among its designated priority populations. The HIV Plan notes that focusing efforts on priority populations will reduce HIV-related disparities, which is essential to the nation’s effort to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

Recent national efforts to address HIV have included new financial resources to support innovative approaches in the 50 geographic areas with the highest number of new HIV infections, 7 states with disproportionate numbers of new HIV infections in rural areas, and HHS agencies. As our country examines and re-defines the role of public health, we have an opportunity to form new partnerships and create new ways of influencing the social determinants of health in order to of improve HIV prevention, testing, and care outcomes. Many geographic areas are pursuing new approaches, collaborations, outreach, and other efforts to engage and support Black Americans at risk for or living with HIV.

Nationally, the Ready, Set, PrEP program aims to close gaps in HIV prevention by providing free PrEP for those without prescription drug coverage. To encourage enrollment in Ready, Set, PrEP, HHS recently launched the “I’m Ready” campaign, including bold and personal stories of Black men and women who empower others to take control of their health through HIV prevention medications.  Please share these messages and encourage others learn about the benefits of PrEP medications and how to access the Ready, Set, PrEP program.

As we observe NBHAAD, I encourage my fellow Black Americans to know their HIV status. If you know your status, please use the occasion of this observance to educate and encourage others to know theirs and to connect to appropriate prevention or treatment services. You can find an HIV testing location or other HIV services near you using the Services Locator. I also extend my appreciation to all stakeholders in our national HIV response working to eliminate the HIV disparities experienced for too long in the Black community. Working together, we can achieve our goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. for all populations.