About two months ago, black America paused to acknowledge the rapidly growing HIV/AIDS crisis in black communities on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day.
For 24 hours, students, parents, victims and volunteers wore T-shirts that read “Got AIDS?” and passed out literature in an effort to raise awareness of the fatal disease.
When I wore the T-shirt then, it wasn’t a big deal. I guess it was because I wasn’t alone. But when I wore the shirt again a few weeks ago, the response was different. Random people approached me, saying how they don’t have AIDS and that they get tested regularly.
Unfortunately, the same is not true for thousands of blacks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 190,000 black men and women diagnosed with AIDS died in 2003.
In that same year, blacks accounted for 49 percent of AIDS cases in the United States. Moreover, the 2000 Census states that blacks make up 12.3 percent of the U.S. population but have accounted for an estimated 368,169 of the 929,985 AIDS cases since the beginning of the epidemic, as states in the CDC’s 2003 HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report.
Clearly, the numbers show a need for awareness efforts such as the “Got AIDS?” T-shirt campaign but more should be done year round.
In the CDC’s report “HIV/AIDS among African Americans,” several risk factors and barriers for prevention are outlined. Among them are partners at risk, substance abuse and denial.
A T-shirt will do little to change people’s attitudes about the disease and encourage them to alter risky behavior like having unprotected sex and sharing needles during drug use. Churches and other community groups need to proactively address these behavior deficiencies in addition to wearing thought-provoking T-shirts.
Another issue my black T-shirt is not addressing is the prevalence of the “down low brother,” or a man who maintains sexual relationships with both men and women.
While there is obviously no sweeping Band-Aid to cure the disease, there are some things that need to be implemented now to decrease the number of blacks who are being dying from HIV/AIDS.
The first possible solution would be to initiate education programs in all-black communities, not just on college campuses.
Many of the people who are contracting the disease live in poverty stricken neighborhoods. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 4 blacks lives in poverty and studies show a correlation between higher AIDS incidence and lower income.
Another step is acknowledging the problem and not pretending that it can’t happen to “good people.” The misconception that “bad people” are the only ones who get HIV could be a main reason why so many blacks are contacting it.
The third solution is accepting those people who have the disease and using them as a source of education, not treating them as outcasts. There are many ways a person can get HIV and they should not be judged for making a poor decision or being victims of unpreventible circumstances.
This crisis can no longer continue to be ignored or approached haphazardly and communities must band together if change is to occur in our lifetime.
Alexia R. Robinson is a senior magazine production student from Jacksonville. She is the editor in chief of The Famuan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org