(The Root) — This week the International AIDS Conference is being held in the United States for the first time in 22 years. Its location in Washington, D.C., which has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the country, with 4.3 percent of African Americans affected, is not lost on Phill Wilson, founder of conference partner the Black AIDS Institute.
In fact, Wilson says, the positioning of the event and the estimated 20,000 attendees — policymakers, scientists, people living with HIV and others committed to ending the pandemic — present an unprecedented opportunity to "put AIDS in black America on the global map."
Wilson told reporters on Saturday, "We have a chance to really end the AIDS epidemic but we need to make sure black folks are really engaged."
"Fifty percent of estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV and AIDS are black, still. Fifty percent of the 58,000 new cases are black still; 50 percent of the annual HIV deaths in this country are black," Wilson said. "And as the population most impacted becomes a smaller part of the general population, we become a lower priority … that's why we need to build a mass mobilization in our communities to make sure we don't allow them to ignore us or forget about us."
Wilson's hope for AIDS 2012's impact on what he calls an "epidemic out of control" among African Americans goes beyond increasing awareness or even encouraging behavioral changes. "We need to make sure we're present at every point in the process, he said. "We need to be the researchers. We need to be the volunteers. We need to be the folks who are evaluating the science. We need to be the folks who are reporting on the science … there is a role for us to play."
Listen to some of Wilson's comments here:
Read more about AIDS 2012 here.