The historic election of Barack Obama, a congressional majority more supportive of the AIDS fight, and a Black America more engaged than ever before, could create real, lasting change in the course of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, says a new report released today by the Black AIDS Institute. At the same time, 2008 witnessed great setbacks, particularly in the effort to prevent the virus' spread. "Making Change Real: The State of AIDS in Black America 2009 lays out both the promise and the peril of the unique moment at which we've arrived in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States.
"With our country facing so many challenges-two wars, a financial meltdown and the growing threat of environmental devastation-it may be tempting to relegate the AIDS epidemic to the back burner of national priorities. That would be a grave mistake," says Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute.
New infections: In 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its long-awaited study re-examining the size and depth of the U.S. epidemic. Using new technology that allows researchers to learn more detail about individual HIV infections, the CDC discovered, among other things:
The 2009 State of AIDS in Black America report includes a chart pack-"The Black Epidemic: By the Numbers,"-which details key data about the Black epidemic.
The U.S. epidemic is at least 40 percent larger than previously believed and growing by between 55,000 and 58,000 infections a year;
Black Americans represented 45 percent of people newly infected in 2006, despite being just 13 percent of the population;
Men who have sex with men accounted for 53 percent of all new infections in 2006, and young Black men were particularly hard hit.
Deaths: The racial disparity in AIDS deaths continued in data released last year:
In 2006, the latest year for which data is available, 7,426 Black Americans died from AIDS. That number represents a meaningful improvement over the previous year-a decline of 1,253 deaths.
But Blacks continue to represent a far outsized proportion of deaths each year. In 2006, Blacks accounted for just over half of all AIDS deaths.
Resources: The federal commitment to all areas of AIDS work-prevention, treatment and research-has all but disappeared.
The CDC's annual HIV-prevention budget has never topped $800 million-a fraction of what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war in a week;
The prevention budget has been cut by 20 percent in the past five years, in real dollar terms;
The CDC spent just under $369 million on Black-specific prevention and research in fiscal year 2008, or 49 percent of the overall budget.
Between 2004 and 2008, the discretionary domestic AIDS budget remained virtually flat, while global spending increased by more than 20 percent annually.
The Promise of a New Era
While the challenges are great, Black America is perhaps better poised to meet them today than ever before.
"The new Obama administration has vowed to take action on several fronts, including drafting America's first comprehensive strategy to direct our efforts. But just as crucial, Black America is engaged like never before. From individuals on up to our traditional Black organizations," said Wilson. "We've accepted the idea that this is our problem and we must find the solution."
In 2006, 16 traditional Black institutions launched the National Black AIDS Mobilization by signing on to the National Call to Action and Declaration of Commitment to End the AIDS Epidemic in Black America. The 16 institutions are not typical AIDS organizations. These groups, many of which have histories that span generations, were founded to meet a wide range of communal needs and concerns; they have now formally added AIDS to their work.
This report offers an update on the progress each group has made in fulfilling its pledge to act. Many of them have made great strides; others are just beginning their work. In all cases, far more resources and support are required from both public and private funders who seek to impact the AIDS epidemic.
Some examples from the State of Our Movement section of the report include:
In 2008, two crucial groups joined the list of those that have completed strategic plans detailing how they will address HIV/AIDS: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League;
100 Black Men of America partnered with Aetna to create a website that members use as a healthcare management tool focusing on HIV/AIDS and other illnesses;
The National Council of Negro Women focused on HIV/AIDS at its national convention, a town hall meeting and an online survey that resulted in a series of recommendations for the next president, including a call for a national strategy to end AIDS;
The National Newspaper Publishers Association ran a 25-week series of HIV/AIDS opinion pieces that were published in 200 Black newspapers each week.
The Report concludes with both recommendations for the President and his administration, as well suggestions to how individuals can get involved in fighting the AIDS epidemic a personal, community and societal level.
Founded in 1999, the Black AIDS Institute is the only national HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. The mission of the Institute is to stop AIDS in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing traditional Black institutions leaders, celebrities, media organizations and clergy in efforts to confront HIV/AIDS. The Institute provides training and capacity building, disseminates information, interprets public and private sector HIV policies, and offers mobilization and advocacy from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view.
For more information about the Black AIDS Institute, and to download a copy of the report, click here: "Making Change Real: The State of AIDS In Black America 2009"
Executive Summary also available at BlackAIDS.org.