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Black HIV/AIDS Awareness
African Americans accounted for an estimated 44% of all new HIV infections among adults and adolescents (aged 13 years or older) in 2010, despite representing only 12% of the US population. Recognizing Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Healthyblackmen.org (HBM) reached out to an expert on the matter for a candid talk.
Ms. Debra Fraser-Howze has two decades of global leadership experience to communities of color regarding teenage pregnancy, social welfare, and HIV and AIDS. She advised two U.S. Presidents while serving on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 1995-2001. Healthyblackmen.org caught up with Debra Y. Fraser-Howze, Senior Vice President of Government and External Affairs at OraSure Technologies, Inc.
HBM: What was the pivotal point to which HIV became a ‘scary’ disease to a ‘manageable’ one?
Howze: In my opinion, there are two pivotal moments that changed HIV from a ‘scary’ disease to a ‘manageable’ one.
The first pivotal point was after all of the confusion settled down around Magic Johnson’s decision to announce his HIV status on November 7th 1991. With Magic’s encouragement, many American’s went to get tested and began to understand how important it was to know their HIV status, despite their apparent risk behavior.
The second pivotal point was in 1996 when Dr. David Ho developed the first ever HIV/AIDS cocktail, called the highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART). This cocktail allowed many infected individuals to stay alive and reduce their viral load.
Truly, these two moments in the 1990’s made testing a universal reality for the entire nation. For the first time ever, it became easier for people to talk about getting tested and to seek the care they needed.
HBM: What needs to shift among African American men who have sex men (MSM) as a population to disrupt HIV transmission and increase prevention behaviors?
Howze: There needs to be a shift in the way we have a conversation with our young people about HIV/AIDS, particularly with young black gay men and young black women. In my opinion, we need to be far more open about sex and the way that the African American community discusses sex and disease. What I have found is that a lot of people think this conversation is scary so they won’t discuss it, but this needs to change.
Specifically to the MSM community, we need to promote openness. First off, as African Americans, we need to embrace the MSM community and let these young men know that we, as a community, love them. We can start this process by reducing the stigma and homophobia that exists in the community. This also means coming to the realization that to win the war against HIV/AIDS we need to make clear that all lives have value. Then, we need to have appropriate discussion about sex and self worth with all young black men and young black women.
Additionally, we need to address the reality of the disease. This means discussing how one protects oneself if they are going to be sexually active. I truly believe that if we leave this part out, nothing can change.
HBM: This February 7th, like do many other awareness days, there will be media campaigns, HIV testing events, etc. What would you like to see happen nationally for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day?
Howze: As a member of one of the five national organizations that created National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I would like to see this day represent a commitment from Black organizations around the world to put in place a set of principles and plans that would meet their constituents where they are in addressing this epidemic. I am hoping that this could happen everywhere from the United Nations to the University of the Corner of Lenox Avenue (UCLA).