How do we keep the discussion about HIV infection going? Why should we want to?
More than 30 years into HIV epidemic, many of us have disease fatigue. But that doesn’t mean we should stop telling the story, says Donna McCree, Ph.D., associate director for health equity, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“[In 2010] African-American women represented about 64 percent of new infections among women,” she says. “Compared to 2008, that’s a 21 percent decline. We hope it’s because of the message we’re getting out there.”
It’s a message that says HIV is a completely preventable virus. It’s a message that says in spite of the decline in new infections among black women, 1.1 million Americans still are living with HIV. And it’s a message that says African Americans make up half of those people, as well as half of the newly infected. In addition, according to the CDC, too many people—1 in 5—infected with the virus don’t know they have it.
Some suggest risky sexual behavior is the reason for these numbers, but McCree says this is an erroneous belief. “Black women are quite conservative when it comes to sexual behavior,” she says. “And while individual behavior is important, if we’re going to address what’s happening with HIV and African-American women, we have to talk about the social and contextual environment. We tend to select partners who look like us.” If HIV rates are higher in that community, she explains, the chances of becoming infected are higher.
We also have to expand the dialogue to talk about housing and poverty, lack of access to quality care and lower education attainment. “We need to talk about what’s going on in the community,” McCree says. “Talk about why it’s happening. Talk about prevention options. Talk about protecting yourself against HIV. Know the facts.”