“All African Americans deserve lifesaving HIV prevention, testing, care, and treatment services.” That was the message of a statement issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday. It came with new data about a still-unmet need in the black community—more than 30 years after the first HIV and AIDS cases were identified—when it comes to HIV diagnosis, care and treatment.
The analysis, published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on National Black HIV/AIDS awareness Day and based on 2010 data, reiterates that African Americans bear the greatest burden of HIV in the United States, accounting for nearly half of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, and nearly half of those who have died with AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic.
But the report went beyond rates of diagnosis to focus on what happens after people discover they are infected.
According to the study, among blacks who had been diagnosed with HIV, 75 percent were linked to care, 48 percent stayed in care, 46 percent were prescribed antiretroviral therapy and only 35 percent achieved viral suppression (a term that means a person’s virus is under control at a level that helps keep him or her healthy and reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to others). Black males had lower levels of care and viral suppression than black females, and those who were younger (under the age of 25) had lower levels than those who were older.
None of the numbers are high enough, according to the CDC, which recommends that people with HIV start antiretroviral therapy regardless of the severity of illness, and sees testing as a critical first step for treatment.
The CDC funds many testing efforts targeted to African Americans, to help them learn their HIV status and link those with HIV to care services.
It’s clear that work is far from done.
“If we are to reduce HIV disparities in the U.S., and substantially prevent new infections, we must do a better job of addressing HIV in African-American communities. Everyone can play a role—by being informed, talking about HIV, and getting tested,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “People who don’t have HIV can take steps to protect themselves so that they can stay negative. People with HIV can get the care they need and stay on treatment. Together, we can fight this disease.”