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A Problem We Can No Longer Ignore

 A Problem We Can No Longer Ignore

We covered with “Mobilizing Against HIV/AIDS” in 1999 and “A Predator in Paradise” in 2003, both issues examining HIV/AIDS in the United States and the Caribbean. But with recent headlines such as “HIV Rate Doubles for Blacks” and “AIDS Across U.S. is Spreading at a Disproportionate Rate for African-American Women,” we knew we had to take another look at what the higher education community was doing to educate and raise awareness about the disease in this country.

HIV/AIDS is having a devastating impact on the Black community. It would be no exaggeration to call it a crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2003, 37 percent of those who died with AIDS were African American, second only to Whites at 44 percent. Even more alarming, 67 percent of women diagnosed with AIDS in 2003 were Black. Forty-four percent of the men were Black. Those numbers should stop the Black community in its tracks.

The recent release of books such as On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of “Straight” Black Men Who Sleep with Men by J.L. King and Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America by Keith Boykin, has sparked a dialogue about the issue of Black men leading double lives so to speak — those who are married or in relationships with women, but who also have sexual relationships with men. Living on the “down low,” aka the “DL,” has become the new catchphrase. The aforementioned authors have gotten plenty of “air time” to discuss their books, but is the Black community truly aware that it is through heterosexual contact with men that 81 percent of the women who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2003 were Black? The second leading cause was intravenous drug use, trailing far behind at 16 percent.

An op-ed that ran in New Jersey’s Bergen Record earlier this month, titled “Politicians, Black Leaders Must do More,” asks “Doesn’t anyone care?” about the AIDS crises in the Black community. The article points out that the “darkening face of AIDS has coincided with a rise in public apathy about the disease.” The author goes on to say that AIDS would probably get more attention if HIV infected one out of 50 Whites, not one out of 50 Blacks.

Speaking at the National Conference on African Americans and AIDS in February, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called on ministers, high-profile athletes and other prominent Black men to step forward and get tested for HIV in order to remove the stigma and help stop the spread of the disease.

It is true that Black leaders must do more in terms of speaking out about HIV/AIDS. It is encouraging, however, that many in the higher education community are working toward curbing the spread of the disease. At a recent AIDS forum, California congresswoman Maxine Waters said the Black community is going to have to tackle the AIDS issue on its own. Black Issues correspondents B. Denise Hawkins and Eleanor Lee Yates and assistant editor Crystal L. Keels each report on researchers, community activists, public health officials and students who are indeed tackling the AIDS issue head-on in proactive and innovative ways.

Hilary Hurd Anyaso

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