Blacks Just Don’t Get It About AIDS

By Sinclere Lee

Washington (BNW) —
When you look at the AIDS epidemic and how Blacks are the main victims of a disease that they didn’t know anything about twenty-years ago, it’s easy to make the case that Black behavior on this issue is cognitively deficient. Yeah, these niggers are crazy! The first statistics ever amassed on HIV in the Washington D. C. area, released today in a sweeping report, reveal "a modern epidemic" remarkable for its size, complexity and reach into all parts of the city.

For the most part, Blacks in Washington make-up the largest number of new AIDS cases!

The numbers most starkly illustrate HIV's impact on the African American community. More than 80 percent of the 3,269 HIV cases identified between 2001 and 2006 were among Black men, women and adolescents. Among women who tested positive, a rising percentage of local cases, nine of 10 were African American.

The 120-page report, which includes the city's first AIDS update since 2000, shows how a condition once considered a gay disease has moved into the general population. HIV was spread through heterosexual contact in more than 37 percent of the District's cases detected in that time period, in contrast to the 25 percent of cases attributable to men having sex with men.

"It blows the stereotype out of the water," said Shannon Hader, who became head of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration in October. Increases by sex, age and ward over the past six years underscore her blunt conclusion that "HIV is everybody's disease here."

The new numbers are a statistical snapshot, not an estimate of the prevalence of infection in the District, which is nearly 60 percent Black. Hader, an epidemiologist and public health physician who has worked on the disease in this country and internationally, said previous projections remain valid: One in 20 city residents is thought to have HIV and 1 in 50 residents to have AIDS, the advanced manifestation of the virus.

Almost 12,500 people in the District were known to have HIV or AIDS in 2006, according to the report. Figures suggest that the number of new HIV cases began declining in 2003, but the administration said the drop more likely reflects underreporting or delayed reporting. A quarter-century into the epidemic, the city's cumulative number of AIDS cases exceeds 17,400.

"HIV/AIDS in the District has become a modern epidemic with complexities and challenges that continue to threaten the lives and well-being of far too many residents," the report states.

District health officials have long been faulted for the lack of HIV information and lagging AIDS data. Not until forced by federal funding requirements did the health department start tracking HIV.

Until that began in 2000, critics said, neither the government nor organizations responding to the disease knew whether their dollars and efforts were effectively addressing the problem.

The report notes that its comprehensive picture "offers the District a new tool to help improve the scope, quality and distribution of care and treatment and prevention services."

Health officials on Monday released new data on HIV/AIDS in the city, the Washington Post reports. The report, which is the first update on HIV/AIDS in the district since 2000, is a statistical analysis and not an estimate of HIV prevalence in the district, according to the Post.

According to the report, almost 12,500 district residents were known to be living with HIV/AIDS in 2006. The number of HIV cases in the district began declining in 2003, but the decrease likely is the result of underreporting or delayed reporting, the report said. One in 20 district residents is HIV-positive and one in 50 is living with AIDS, according to Shannon Hader, head of the district's HIV/AIDS Administration. The city's cumulative number of AIDS cases is more than 17,400, according to the Post.

More than 80% of the HIV cases diagnosed in the district between 2001 and 2006 were among Black men, women and adolescents, the report found. Nine in 10 women who tested positive for HIV were black, according to the report. In addition, about 37% of HIV cases were transmitted through heterosexual contact, compared with 25% that were transmitted among men who have sex with men, the report said.

More than two-thirds of AIDS cases in the district during the past 10 years were among people who progressed to AIDS within one year of being diagnosed with HIV, compared with 39% of AIDS cases nationwide, the report found. The report also found that more people ages 40 to 49 were being diagnosed with HIV than any other age group. In addition, all of the 36 children in the district who tested positive for HIV since 2002 contracted the virus during birth.

"HIV/AIDS in the district has become a modern epidemic with complexities and challenges that continue to threaten the lives and well-being of far too many residents," the report said. The report added that the analysis will offer the district a "new tool to help improve the scope, quality and distribution of care, and treatment and prevention services."


According to Hader, the report's finding that more than 37% of HIV cases were spread through heterosexual contact "blows the stereotype out of the water." She added that HIV is "everybody's disease" in the district. District Mayor Adrian Fenty in a letter accompanying the report said that city officials "must take advantage of this information with the sense of urgency that this epidemic deserves." The HIV/AIDS Administration said it will use the report to determine the next steps in curbing the spread of the virus. Health officials added that they will not focus on any one aspect of the disease or on a single group at high risk of HIV/AIDS. "We don't have the luxury of only picking one," Hader said, adding, "We have the imperative to do it all."

ABC's "Nightline" on Friday reported on HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C., and efforts to educate teenagers about the disease. The segment includes comments from Nicole Styles and Arnita Michelle Wilson of Metro TeenAIDS, as well as Christopher Barnhill, an HIV-positive district resident (Tapper, "Nightline," ABC, 11/23). Premium video of the segment and expanded ABC News coverage are available online.

HIV information is particularly valuable because it represents the most recent infections and can indicate changes in transmission patterns. It is mainly collected through the investigation of cases forwarded by laboratories and health-care providers.

The compilation signifies a major step forward for the HIV/AIDS agency, which has gone through repeated program and leadership upheavals in recent years. "For us, this is a milestone," said Hader, its third administrator since 2004.

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