In disturbing yet un-surprising news, black men continue to be over-represented in new HIV infections, to the tune of about 50,000 per year over the past decade according to federal officials. Referring to the epidemic as “detrimental” to gay men, federal health officials also cite exploding rates of new infection in young black men. But ask yourself, what if we were talking about white women?
Critics and independent public health leaders have said that the government prevention policy is extremely ineffective. And obviously current budget cuts do not help the cause. Some researchers have publicly maintained that it is impossible to eradicate a fatal, inherently incurable disease that is transmitted through sex. Social stigma is also a barrier to frequent testing for all groups.
Epidemiologists for the CDC said that the U.S. saw 130,000 new cases per year in the 1980s. The rate slowly decreased during the 1990s and became flat at 50,000 new cases per year around 2000.
If ever there was a wake-up call for black men and their allies it is now. Consider that black males have the shortest life span of all racial or ethnic groups in the nation — a fact that has remained unchanged for at least the past 100 years. In fact, black men have the highest overall mortality rate across all geographic regions in the U.S. and across all age groups from birth to age 84, with the widest racial gaps in mortality occurring in the prime adult years, ages 25-54. In addition to over-representation in prison, under-representation in higher education, black males have long required a more sophisticated public health intervention response from our federal agencies. Today, the average American can expect to live 5 years longer than a Palestinian—unless that American is a black male, in which case he can expect to die three years sooner.
If these astonishing facts were applied to white women, one has to wonder if health disparities would be allowed to be so pervasive. Consider the federal government has overseen widening gaps in health outcomes for black males vs. white males dating back to the 1960’s. Consider Tuskegee? Consider that more black males are incarcerated or under supervision of the penal system (e.g. probation, parole, etc.) than in graduate school. Now what if we were discussing white women, would there be more targeted programs, more funding, more political intervention?
HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) are preventable. Talk to your sexual partners about their HIV status, get an HIV test, use condoms, and consider abstaining from sexual intercourse if you have doubts. Just because you were sexually active on Wednesday, doesn’t mean you have to be on Thursday. Men and women have the right to refuse sex anytime, anywhere. Contact your local health department for resources on free condoms and places to get tested.