In D.C., Men of Color Less Risky, But Still Have Higher Rates of HIV
Even before hosting the XIX International AIDS Conference a few months ago, HIV/AIDS has been a major focus in Washington, D.C. During the conference, a continuous point of discussion was the disproportionate burden that African-Americans faced regarding HIV/AIDS. Now, a recent study has shown that while men of color were more likely to use condoms, they still face much higher rates of HIV. Groups like Us Helping Us, People Into Living help bridge that gap.
According to the DC Department of Health’s 2011 report, at the end of 2010, approximately 2.7 percent of the District’s population 13 years and older were living with HIV. The same report also states that although blacks accounted for only 46 percent of the District’s population over the age of 12, 75.4 percent of those living with HIV were black.
But a 2010 study conducted by the DC Department of Health found that in the District, men of color were less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. In fact, men of color were almost twice as likely to use condoms as their white counterparts. This information has been a key factor in shifting the discussion away from pure statistics to investigating how the black community came to carry such a burden.
"We think that part of the problem is the sexual ecology of black gay men," Ron Simmons, PhD, current president/CEO of Us Helping Us told EDGE. "People have sex with other people in their network. Because there are so many HIV infected men in that network, then you have a greater risk."
Although blacks represented about 14 percent of the U.S. population in 2009, they accounted for nearly half of all those living with HIV in the United States. In the same year it was estimated that black men who have sex with men represent 73 percent of new infections among all black men and 37 percent of all men who have sex with men.
Us Helping Us, People Into Living, a local nonprofit in Washington, D.C., has been serving the gay African-American community since 1985 and has received numerous awards for its work including the National HIV/AIDS Diversity Award from Kaiser Permanente and the Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2008.
Driven by its mission of improving the health and well being of black gay men and reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS in the black community, Us Helping Us provides many programs specifically tailored to the black community. Two of their programs, Noir Reflections and D-up!, utilize the only two HIV prevention techniques designed for black gay men and recommended by the CDC for effectiveness.
Simmons recently celebrated his twentieth year as the organization’s head. He has been promoting dialogue regarding a paradigm shift in HIV infection among black men who have sex with men.
Citing the 2010 study done by the D.C. Department of Health, Simmons noted that, contrary to popular belief, HIV infection is more nuanced than simply being about whom you sleep with. Part of the problem reveals itself in the examination of social networks, which reveal that people tended to have sex with other men within their network, who were already HIV-positive.
"The greater number of people living with HIV in African-American communities and the fact that African Americans tend to have sex with partners of the same race/ethnicity means that they face a greater risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter," stated the CDC, supporting this assertion.
The second part comes from identifying and incorporating social determinants into the overall analysis. According to Simmons, HIV infections are more than just people having sex. If you place a map of the most heavily infected areas in D.C. and place another with the highest trends of poverty, you start to see a pattern. The hardest hit by HIV infections are the homeless, the poor and the incarcerated. Another major contributing factor is that there is little to no access to proper health care among these individuals.
Right now, one of the main challenges that Us Helping Us, and by extension many nonprofits involved in black HIV/AIDS prevention and advocacy, faces is getting the general public to understand the concepts of social networks and social determinants. Combine this with the fact that there is no immediate quick fix, and difficulties in obtaining corporate funding and the hurdle becomes even more daunting. Daunting, yet not impossible.
For more info, visit www.uhupil.org/