African-Americans Suffer Disproportionately From AIDS, by Roderick Conrad

by Roderick Conrad
A New Visions Commentary paper published May 1997 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.
When names like Arthur Ashe, Rock Hudson, and Kimberly Bergalis are mentioned, people automatically think of AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The fact that most Americans would know that Ashe, Hudson and Bergalis died of AIDS is in no small part due to the enormous attention HIV and AIDS have received in the press for over a decade. The press is not alone; public health professionals also treat HIV and AIDS unlike any other infectious or contagious disease. Unfortunately, this special treatment may be aiding in the transmission of HIV.

Research clearly indicates that the earlier HIV is detected, the more effective the drugs used to treat it will be. The early diagnosis of HIV in Magic Johnson and his subsequent medical treatment proves the point; his latest tests reveal no sign of the disease in his blood.

The Centers for Disease Control’s statistics clearly indicate that a primary group which can benefit from early HIV detection and partner notification is African-Americans. In 1996, non-Hispanic blacks accounted for 41% of adults reported with AIDS, despite only accounting for 12% of the U.S. population.

Adult and adolescent females accounted for 18 percent of the AIDS caseload in 1994, up from 7 percent in 1985. 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. Early partner notification would especially benefit women since studies indicate that 50-70% of women infected with HIV didn’t engage in high risk behaviors, but were infected by a partner who did. Heterosexual contact with an HIV-infected man is the most rapidly increasing transmission category among women.

Not surprisingly, black children are suffering the consequences of the explosion of AIDS cases among women. Six of every ten U.S. children who acquired AIDS in the womb or upon birth are black. HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death for non-Hispanic black children 1-4 years of age in New York. Of the black children under the age of 13 who have AIDS, 95% acquired HIV infection during gestation or upon birth.

Recent National Center for Health Statistics paint a bleak future if something isn’t done soon. There were 259 new AIDS cases reported among non-Hispanic black children under age 13 from January through June in 1995, meaning black children accounted for 63% of all new cases among children during that time period. Black females over 13 accounted for 59% of all new AIDS cases among all women from January to June of 1995. Black men accounted for 37% of new AIDS cases among all men over 13 from the same time period.

“The HIV Prevention Act of 1997,” was recently introduced in Congress to reduce the rate of HIV infections among all Americans.

Key components of the legislation include the following:

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.

The reality is people are dying in epidemic numbers from AIDS. For too long, this disease has been treated as a political struggle, not a public health crisis. With the introduction of the “HIV Prevention Act of 1997,” some of us hope that the foolish political struggle will end, so the appropriate treatment of those infected can begin.

(Roderick Conrad, a member of the national Advisory Committee of the African-American leadership group Project 21, is a research librarian at the Washington D.C. law offices of McKenna & Cuneo.)


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