White House Hosts Summit on Black Men and HIV

It's a signal the nation is finally getting serious about defeating the disease in its hardest-hit group.

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Doctors, activists and several key members of the Obama administration convened at the White House Wednesday to address AIDS and its relationship to African-American men. Called the "White House Meeting on Black Men and HIV," the event, an effort of both the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) and the Office of Public Engagement, brought together 13 speakers over three panels to discuss how best to eradicate AIDS among African-American men, who as a group have by far the highest HIV infection rate in the nation.

Dubbed the "first event of its kind" in the history of the White House by Jeffrey Crowley, director of ONAP, the meeting, which attracted a mostly black audience of several dozen people, was a small but notable step in the administration's march toward the creation of a comprehensive, progressive and long-awaited National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

Currently, ONAP is on something of a fact-finding mission, engaging experts and average citizens in dialogues meant to convey a "commitment to listening to Americans" ideas for a strategic plan for moving forward." The next step is using that information within the newly developed Federal HIV Interagency Working Group, whose job it is to lower the incidence of HIV and AIDS, increase access to care for those infected and reduce HIV-related disparities. Whether any of that will actually happen remains to be seen, but it's important to recognize the significance of these sorts of meetings in and of themselves.

While Barack Obama's predecessor did indeed triple funding dedicated to fighting the scourge of AIDS in Africa, his domestic STD policies (like abstinence-only education) coincided with an increase in sexual infections in youths. Today, one in 16 black men will get HIV or AIDS in his lifetime, and one in 30 black women.

Later, community leaders from universities, faith-based organizations and youth groups presented what individuals and local coalitions can do to help support national programs. Perhaps the most striking testimony was from David Malebranche, professor of medicine at Emory University, who said that one way to truly mitigate AIDS rates is by offering black men "ways to cope" with the racism--institutional and otherwise--that leads to self-destructive behaviors. "Racism isn't going away," he said. "I'm confident I'll never see a world in which it does. So we need to address the impact that has on our communities to move forward."

Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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