Combatting HIV/AIDS on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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Advocates and professionals experienced in HIV/AIDS amongst African Americans address HIV in Black communities, ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S., and innovative programming during the virtual event “Live with Leadership: A Conversation Commemorating National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day,” on February 7.

African Americans account for 13% of the United States population, while 40% were reported to have HIV in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. African Americans or Black people account for a higher proportion of new HIV infections compared to other races and ethnicities.

In commemoration of February 7, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy hosted a virtual event, “Live with Leadership: A Conversation Commemorating National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day,” to address HIV in Black communities, ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S., and innovative programming.

The main takeaway of the conversation resulted in “why HIV among Black people is still an issue at large for more than 40 years?” and “why National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day continues to be so important and relevant today?”

Speakers and professionals in HIV awareness, Harold Phillips, Kaye Hayes and Kayla Quimbley, supported answers and conversation on these specific questions and agreed HIV among Black people all starts with improving health equity, overall. This includes improving mental health and wellness, sexual health education, health literacy education and more, according to Phillips, director at The White House Office of National AIDS Policy. The three shared improving health equity amongst Black people begins by engaging with black communities through conversation and education.

Hayes, acting director at the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP) and executive director of PACHA, said community engagement starts with listening to the community.

“When we talk about community engagement, we have to be ready to listen,” Hayes said. “I think it starts there - with having our partners at the table, having our community advocates at the table and listening to their best practices, listening to the challenges, listening to what they have to tell us because that helps impact how we move forward…

“I really do think it starts with listening to make sure that we're addressing the needs of the community… And then I also think if you look at the data, ‘what is the science telling us?’”

Recent data released by the CDC reported the rise of Black people with HIV without HIV care and that this particular group were among those with less COVID-19 vaccination coverage. The report highlighted the continuing urgent need to address the social determinants that contribute to these disparities and to better deliver HIV prevention and care to those who need it the most.

Hayes commented on the report, “the data should be driving us and our decisions as we move forward.”

In order to move forward and see improvements, Quimbley, an ambassador of National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day at Advocates for Youth and member of PACHA, said it’s important to identify barriers Black people are facing in order to reach full access or full health equity. Many of these barriers are residing as social determinants of health – where they live, what their income is, if they have health insurance, means of transportation and more. Others are systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, lack of access or of lack of education on sexual health and more.

“Despite tremendous progress in reducing HIV transmission since the height of the epidemic, HIV continues to disproportionately affect Black people in America,” saidDemetre Daskalakis, MD, MPH, Director of CDC’s HIV Prevention Program. “Health disparities are not inevitable and can be addressed. The advanced, highly effective HIV prevention and treatment tools and COVID-19 vaccines that have been accessed by some must be accessible to all. While there is no simple solution to equity, our nation must finally tear down the wall of factors that still obstructs these tools against HIV and COVID-19 from equitably reaching the people who could benefit from them.”

In recent efforts to improve HIV awareness and care, President Joe Biden released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy on World Aids Day, December 1 last year. Phillips addressed the strategy talks about efforts toward equity and access and acknowledges that racism is a public health threat. Most importantly, it addresses the systems and the structures the country has created do not provide equal access for everyone. He added the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE)Initiative is another endeavor which can provide resources, data access, testing and retention to care.

The group mentioned further efforts to look forward to such as programs like Ready Set Prep, which allows the expenses for HIV prep to be covered, and groups like young adults can have more access to education and protection. They also reported the increase in research, medication/tools for treatment, testing and more conversation.

“I've seen in the last two years more acceptance and usage of HIV self-testing, which I think is an important tool,” said Phillips. “HIV testing helps open up some additional doors. The new tools we have coming on board for prep, injectable practice is exciting and thinking about how we provide access to that. We've got new tools on board for treatment and we're seeing a lot of programs move from sort of that window period of someone getting an HIV test and then having to wait two, three sometimes a month or longer to see a clinician and start treatment. I'm seeing a lot more programs move toward rapid.”

In order to see more improvements, Phillips encourages further sharing and discussion within the Black community on HIV and access “so that our community can get informed, and we can work to end the HIV epidemic by the year 2030.”

The group added Black people and those fighting HIV/AIDS should educate themselves on what it is they can do to protect themselves and help their communities.

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