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HIV & AIDS Health Center

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HIV and AIDS in African-Americans

In many ways, African-Americans are bearing the brunt of the HIV crisis in the United States. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). African-Americans receive more AIDS diagnoses and experience more HIV-related deaths than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. Here is a brief overview of the impact, possible causes, and potential ways to reduce the risk of HIV and AIDS in blacks.

The Impact of HIV in Blacks

Statistics only begin to show the tremendous toll HIV in blacks is taking.

  • More HIV infections. African Americans make up 14% of the U.S. population, but they represent 44% of new HIV cases. The picture is even bleaker in black women, teens, and children. In 2010, the CDC estimates that new HIV infections in African American women accounted for nearly two thirds of all new infections among women.
  • Shorter survival. On average, the survival time for African-Americans with AIDS is lower than for other racial or ethnic groups.
  • Increased numbers of deaths. AIDS is a leading cause of death in African-Americans, especially in young women.

How HIV in Blacks Spreads

HIV in black men is spread most often through (in this order):

  • Not using a condom or other protection when having sex with a man who is infected with HIV.
  • Sharing injection drug needles or syringes with someone who is infected with HIV
  • Not using a condom or other protection when having sex with a woman who is infected with HIV.

HIV in black women is spread most often through (in this order):

  • Not using a condom or other protection when having sex with a man who is infected with HIV.
  • Sharing injection drug needles or syringes with someone who is infected with HIV.

Why Are There so Many Blacks With HIV?

There are many ideas about why HIV in blacks is such a big problem. Factors like these are contributing to this growing epidemic:

  • Poverty. African-Americans are more likely to be uninsured or publicly insured than whites. This can limit access to information, testing, and treatment for HIV and other diseases, and lead to higher rates of hospitalization. Dependence on drugs can increase the impact of financial difficulties. It can also lead to behaviors such as an exchange of sex for drugs, which increase the risk for HIV infection. In addition, women who are financially dependent may fall prey to power imbalances that can weaken their ability to protect themselves in sexual relationships.
  • Injecting drug use. This increases the spread of HIV through blood, as well as leading to more risky sexual behavior.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases. In 2010, 69% of all reported cases of gonorrhea, one of many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), occurred among African-Americans. Having STDs increases the chances of also getting HIV.
  • Lack of information. Many may be HIV positive and not know it, so they continue to spread the disease. In addition, distrust in governmental sources of information and research lingers due to the historic Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which exploited blacks without their knowledge.
  • Stigma about HIV in blacks. Some people in the African-American community still mistakenly believe that HIV is a white, gay disease. This view may make it difficult to learn about or discuss their HIV status with others. Stigma may also silence men who have sex with men but don’t tell their women sex partners. This is often called being on the "down low." Current studies may reveal just how much this practice contributes to the spread of HIV in blacks.

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