The toll of the HIV epidemic among black men in the United States is staggering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 16 black men will become infected with HIV in their lifetime. An estimated two-thirds of people living with HIV/AIDS in the black community are men, and black men in some U.S. cities have HIV rates as high as heavily impacted countries in Africa.
According to CDC, black gay and bisexual men are the most heavily impacted population in the black community. One study in five major U.S. cities found that as many as half of all black gay men in these communities were living with HIV. Although not as heavily impacted, black heterosexual men are also at high risk for HIV infection through heterosexual sex and intravenous drug use.
On June 2, 2010, the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) convened a meeting at the White House on black Men and HIV. The meeting included black men living with HIV, experts on HIV/AIDS, federal, state and local policymakers, community-based service providers, representatives from foundations and leaders from across the black community’s civil rights and faith organizations.
The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness about the domestic HIV epidemic among black men, discuss government and community responses to the epidemic, and promote a conversation among diverse elements of the black community.
Part of the reason why it is so important to re-energize the dialogue is that frequently discussions of HIV among black men have had the effect of casting blame without spreading knowledge of the factors that cause black men to be at heightened risk. To move forward, we need the public to have a deeper understanding of the complex issues that contribute to infections, and we need a more concentrated focus on solutions for supporting black men and the other communities who bear a heavy burden of responding to HIV.
As a scientist who has spent the last 10 years addressing this topic while at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I believe that this type of dialogue is essential to improving our country’s response to HIV/AIDS. This conversation needs to continue, but more importantly, it needs to be followed by collective action to end the national tragedy such that future generations of black men do not face HIV infection as a rite of passage.