Testing urged to end AIDS crisis

HIV/AIDS is a crisis in African American communities, threatening the health and well-being of men and women in Tennessee and across the U.S. The Tennessee Department of Health will join communities, churches and other organizations on February 7 in observances of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This community mobilization initiative focuses on education, testing, involvement and treatment, with the goal of raising awareness, participation and support for the prevention of HIV among African Americans.

“Far too many lives are claimed or disrupted by AIDS each year,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Of all racial and ethnic groups, African Americans continue to face the most severe burden of HIV/AIDS in Tennessee and the nation. We urge everyone to know his or her HIV status and learn how to prevent acquiring or transmitting HIV.”

African Americans in Tennessee are disproportionately affected by HIV, comprising 61 percent of the 881 new reported HIV cases in 2012. In that same year, African Americans represented 57 percent of all Tennesseans living with a diagnosis of HIV, while making up only 17 percent of the state’s population. Figures through the end of 2012 indicate 25,599 Tennesseans have been diagnosed with HIV. Of that number, 57 percent are African American. To date, there have been 8,264 deaths among Tennesseans infected with HIV, with 54 percent of these deaths among African Americans. Case rates of reported HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans in 2012 were approximately nine times higher than the rate among Caucasians.

“The CDC estimates more than one million Americans are living with HIV, and that one-fifth of those people don’t know they have contracted the virus,” said Lesia Walker, MPH, director of the TDH Division of Minority Health and Disparity Elimination. “It is important for individuals to get educated, tested and into treatment and counseling if necessary. Getting tested for HIV is vital in preventing the spread of the virus.”

Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 250,000 African Americans with HIV have died in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC data also rank AIDS as the third leading cause of death among black women and men aged 35 to 44. The rate of new infections for black women is more than 15 times higher than that of white women, and more than three times as high as that of Hispanic women. Compared with individuals of other races and ethnicities, black Americans account for a higher proportion of HIV infections at all stages of disease from new infections to death.

Within the African American community, CDC data show gay and bisexual men are the most affected by HIV/AIDS, followed by heterosexual women. The majority of black women who are infected through heterosexual contact are far more affected by HIV than women of other races. Among women of all races, black women account for 57 percent of all new HIV infections.

TDH offers free and confidential HIV testing at all county health department clinics, which also provide counseling with a trained health care provider on ways to reduce the risk of HIV infection and help link HIV-infected individuals with medical care. To find your local county health department, visit the TDH website at http://health.state.tn.us/localdepartments.htm. For more information on locations where you can be tested for HIV, call the HIV/AIDS Hotline toll-free at 1-800-525-2437, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central Time.

This is the 13th year for observances of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. To learn more about NBHAAD and find a list of planned events, visit www.NationalBlackAIDSDay.org.

Posted on Monday, February 11, 2013 at 10:53 am