Black HIV Epidemic: We Can Solve This

On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, an expert tells The Root what it will take. 

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Kevin Fenton (CDC)

You can't acknowledge National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day without addressing hard truths about the epidemic, which touches every corner of the African-American community. We've all heard them before: African Americans are more affected by HIV than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. Blacks make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for almost half of those living and dying with HIV and AIDS in this country. One in 16 black men will be diagnosed with HIV in his lifetime, as will 1 in 32 black women.

But Dr. Kevin A. Fenton, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, is doing more than just sharing the shocking statistics today. Instead, he's spreading the message that there is absolutely hope for reversing this epidemic -- that is, if everyone from public health and community leaders to parents and the faith community commits to confronting the factors that fuel it.

"We've got to realize that this epidemic is entirely preventable, and the answer to ending it is within our hand and is within our grasp," Fenton told The Root. He talks about the obvious, individual things: Safe, mutually monogamous sex, using condoms faithfully and consistently, getting tested and seeking treatment if infected.

But his real message transcends the personal responsibility that he insists we all have to protect our own health. Ultimately, he says, keeping the epidemic at bay "will depend on addressing the root causes that allow HIV to flourish in the black community." That means looking at the big picture of poverty, high rates of incarceration and lack of access to health care. For example, "We know that those who don't have the means to see a health care provider may not get an HIV test or treatment until it's too late," Kenton explains.

He's also insistent that we tackle the social factors that that put black people at especially high risk for denying the crisis the attention it deserves. "Stigma and homophobia remain on the line drivers of the epidemic, and they are far too prevalent in our community. We need to shed light; speak to our children, peers and partners; mobilize communities; and create safe spaces to talk about AIDS/HIV," he told The Root. "We must all be consistent committed and focused."

Listen to Fenton's statement here and follow him on Twitter at @CDC_DrFenton.

Read more at the CDC and actagainstaids.org.

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