(The Root) — Feb. 7 is the 13th anniversary of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which was created to bring greater attention to the devastating impact of HIV in African-American communities.
Indeed, NBHAAD is a time to act to ensure progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Donna McCree, associate director for health equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, told The Root. One area that has seen progress is testing, with efforts concentrated on reaching those who have contracted HIV/AIDS in order to help them receive early treatment, she said.
To that end, the CDC recently expanded its Expanded Testing Initiative, which started in 2011 and has been successful at reaching African Americans and Hispanics in 25 cities and communities most affected by HIV, she said. So far, through the $142.5 million, three-year initiative, about 18,000 people with HIV — 70 percent of them African American — have been diagnosed, McCree added. The agency launched the program to support its 2006 Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents and Pregnant Women in Health Care Settings. The recommendations, which call for HIV testing to become a routine part of health care for all U.S. adults and adolescents, are aimed at increasing testing in health care settings.
In other areas of testing, the CDC launched a campaign aimed at women — Take Charge. Take the Test — and one directed at men who have sex with men — Testing Makes Us Stronger — in order to provide free or low-cost testing. In addition, a two-year pilot pharmacy initiative that began last summer in 24 cities and communities trains pharmacists in retail-store clinics to deliver confidential, rapid HIV testing. McCree said that the CDC hopes to expand the successful pilot.
"Testing is critical, and it's essential for people to be diagnosed," she said.
The unvarnished numbers regarding infection rates are sobering. About 50,000 people are infected with HIV each year, and 1 in 4 is 13 to 24 years old, according to a recent Vital Signs report released by the CDC. Youths make up 7 percent of the more than 1 million people in the U.S. living with HIV. About 12,000 young people were infected with HIV in 2010, the most recent data available; the greatest number of infections occurred among gay and bisexual youths. Nearly half of all new infections among youths occur in African-American males, and 60 percent of young people living with HIV are unaware that they're infected.
While African-American women also continue to be far more affected by HIV than women of other races or ethnicities, recent data show early signs of a decrease in new HIV infections (pdf). Experts at the CDC are hopeful that this is the beginning of a longer-term trend.
One high-profile person speaking out about the need to get tested is Jamar Rogers, formerly of NBC's The Voice, who announced on the program that he is living with HIV. Rogers, who is now a spokesman for the CDC's Let's Stop HIV Together campaign, told The Root that during speaking tours, he continually encounters young people who engage in high-risk behavior and have never been tested.
"For the people who choose to be informed, there has never been more testing availability than there is now," he said. "You can go anywhere and get tested and get rapid results. Yes, there are still people who are afraid to be tested because there is still such a stigma against HIV. I was watching an episode of the Family Guy and there were a lot of AIDS jokes. It was terrible.
"But there is no one to put a face on HIV/AIDS besides myself, Magic Johnson and Jack Mackenroth from Project Runway, so of course people have this fear of wanting to know their status," he continued. "I'm trying to demystify it by encouraging people to get tested. The earlier you find out you may be infected, the earlier you can get treated and the healthier you are for a longer amount of time. It's no longer a death sentence."