"As AIDS continues to ravage black communities in America, we as
members and associates of the black leadership group Project 21 are urging
you to give serious attention to provisions contained in the 'HIV Prevention
Act of 1997' as a means of combating AIDS in the black community,"
wrote 28 affiliates of the African-American leadership group Project 21
in a May 6 letter addressed to Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Maxine
Waters and sent to the entire Caucus.
"The difference in treatment of AIDS from all other contagious diseases is impeding early detection of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS," said Project 21 member Roderick Conrad, a signer of the letter and author of an article on the AIDS epidemic in the black community distributed by the Knight-Ridder news service. "The Congressional Black Caucus should take notice of any proposal intended to increase early detection of the HIV virus. This is a public health issue, not a political one."
The purpose of the letter was to alert Congressional Black Caucus members to a proposal by Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist, that includes components intended to increase early detection of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. As stated in the letter, "Research clearly indicates that the earlier HIV is detected, the more effective the drugs used to treat it will be. For too long, this disease has not been treated as a public health crises, but as a civil rights struggle. Sound medical practices have been sacrificed at the altar of political correctness."
The letter states in detail the effect AIDS has had on the black community: "In 1996, non-Hispanic blacks accounted for 41% of adults reported with AIDS. AIDS-opportunistic illnesses per 100,000 population were approximately sevenfold higher among non-Hispanic blacks (99) than among non-Hispanic whites (15) in 1995.
"... The AIDS rate for black women is 16 times greater than that for white U.S. women. HIV infection was the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 25-44 in 1993... Six of every ten U.S. children who acquired AIDS in the womb or upon birth are black."
Several components of the legislation include:
1) A confidential national HIV reporting effort. Currently, states do not report cases of HIV infections, but of AIDS, the endstage of HIV to the Centers for Disease Control.
2) A partner notification provision that provides the partners of an individual with HIV an appropriate opportunity to learn that they have been exposed to HIV, without compromising the anonymity of the individual responsible for exposing them to the disease.
3) HIV testing for sexual offenders. Most states allow rape victims to find out their attackers' HIV status only after conviction, which may take years.
4) Policies that seek to protect both health care providers and patients from unwarranted HIV exposure.
5) Expression of the sense of Congress that the intentional transmission of HIV should be punished as criminal behavior by the states.
For an interview with a signer of the letter, or a copy of the letter itself, contact Arturo Silva of Project 21 at 202/543-4110, or e-mail him at [email protected].