New HIV Infections Down Among Black Women

We spoke to CDC Director Kevin Fenton about newly released estimates. Plus: What still needs to be done to combat the epidemic in the African-American community. 

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(The Root) -- On Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new estimates of the number of new HIV infections in the United States, and the news was positive for black women: Data reveal a 21 percent decrease in new infections in this group between 2008 and 2010.

CDC Director Kevin Fenton, who has led the nation's HIV-prevention efforts since 2005, told The Root that he was "very encouraged" by the decline. He noted that the drop will drive reductions in new HIV-infection rates among women overall.

So what, when it comes to the fight against HIV and AIDS, is working so effectively with black women? Fenton says "a number of factors are beginning to bear fruit," including a scaling up of the CDC's efforts to encourage women to get tested and to engage their health providers, with a specific focus on the African-American community. "The data reflect not only our efforts but also that the community is clearly taking the message and taking steps they need to avoid to avoid HIV ... We're seeing black women taking control."

Despite those steps and efforts to take control, the new data show that black women continue to be far more affected by HIV than women of other races and ethnicities, with new-infection rates 20 times that of white women and nearly five times that of Hispanic women (38.1 versus 1.9 and 8.0 per 100,000, respectively). 

"We have to ensure that our efforts build upon this trend and we don't take our foot off the accelerator," Fenton said.

The data, published in the CDC's HIV Supplemental Surveillance Report, included negative trends for the African-American community, too. For one, while gay and bisexual men (called "men who have sex with men," or "MSM," in the report) of all ages, races and ethnicities are hit worst by the epidemic, the highest numbers are seen among those who are young, MSM and black. That group now accounts for more new infections than any other subgroup -- a total of 4,800 in 2010.

Fenton calls that a "complex problem that requires a national strategy," but emphasizes the report's findings that "individual risk behavior alone does not account for the disproportionate burden of HIV among young MSM."

"Study after study has shown that young black gay men do not necessarily have higher risk behavior than their white counterparts, but there can be characteristics of the environment in which they're having sex that can put them at higher risk of acquiring HIV," he said, explaining: "If you have a lot of HIV in your community, then with every act of sex you have, you are going to have a higher probability of coming into contact with someone who is HIV infected ... That's why we must do a much better job of getting the entire African-American community screened, tested and getting HIV under control."

The CDC plans to use these new estimates in the report to focus HIV-prevention efforts where the need is greatest, sustain the encouraging new decline in infections among African-American women and continue to work toward the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

Read the entire report at the CDC.