03 Jun 1998 Black Leadership Drops the Ball on Minority AIDS Epidemic
While thousands of experts on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are meeting in Geneva, Switzerland for the World AIDS Conference, many are asking heads of state and other world leaders — particularly those in Africa — to build the courage to face the AIDS epidemic. In the United States, members of the black leadership network Project 21 say the issue of AIDS in American black communities has been ignored for too long by black churches and black leaders at the peril of thousands who are uneducated and uninformed about the disease.
African-Americans make up approximately 13% of the population of the United States, but the Centers for Disease Control reports that blacks account for approximately 57% of all new infections of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) — the disease which causes AIDS. The AIDS rate for black women in the United States is 16 times greater than that for white women. Not surprisingly, black children are also suffering the consequences of the explosion of AIDS cases among women. Six of every 10 children acquiring AIDS in the womb or upon birth in the United States are black. HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death for black children between one and four years of age in New York State alone. Blacks between 13 and 24, according to data collected from 25 states between January 1994 and June 1997, account for 63% of new HIV infections. And, while deaths due to AIDS are dropping overall, the disease remains the leading cause of death among black people.
Project 21 Director Roderick Conrad says, “It’s time to change course on AIDS. Black America has to get out of the box of denial and believing in the myths about this disease and treat it for what it is — a public health crisis in our community. Fear, ignorance and complacency on the part of the black churches and black leaders is having a devastating effect on families and communities.”
Project 21 members say one way to combat this situation is to support “The HIV Prevention Act of 1997” (H.R. 1062). U.S. Representative Tom Coburn (R-OK), a practicing physician, introduced the bill in March of 1997 to rectify the way AIDS and HIV are treated by public health officials. Key components of the legislation include:
- A partner-notification provision that provides the partners of an individual with HIV an appropriate opportunity to learn they have been exposed to HIV — without compromising the anonymity of the infected individual.
- A confidential national HIV reporting effort to remedy the current practice in which states report new AIDS cases, but not new HIV cases, to the CDC.
- Approval of the notification of adoptive parents as to the HIV status of a child they are prepared to adopt.
- Expression of the sense of Congress that the intentional transmission of HIV should be punished as criminal behavior.
H.R. 1062 has been referred to the House Commerce Committee, but has not been high on the legislative agenda due to the House’s limited schedule. Supporters of the bill have been encouraged by the progress of another bill that is expected to come up for a vote in New York State regarding partner notification. The momentum generated by the New York bill may help Coburn’s legislation in the House. Although establishment AIDS organizations oppose H.R. 1062, Rep. Coburn’s office says the CDC is close to making a statement of support for it. Project 21 says Black America should consider a statement of support as well.