HIV diagnoses have decreased in the African American community; prevention and care necessary to continue the decline
Eugene McCray, M.D., Director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, CDC; and Jonathan Mermin, M.D., MPH, Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), held every year on February 7, has for 17 years been a time to encourage HIV prevention, testing, and access to care and treatment in the African American community.
This year, it is a testament to public health and a strong community that the numbers of HIV and AIDS diagnoses among African Americans have decreased along with other racial and ethnic groups over the past decades. While African Americans are still the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV, the gains made by this community have been great, and they include a 14% drop in HIV diagnoses from 2010 to 2014 that were fueled by a steep decline among African American women and a leveling off of diagnoses among African American gay and bisexual men. Research has shown that African Americans do not engage in behaviors that could transmit HIV more than other groups, so the impact of HIV likely affected the African American community because of other factors, such as lack of access to health care, poverty, high rates of male incarceration, stigma, and homophobia.
NBHAAD has been important over the years to focus our wide-ranging prevention efforts on African Americans and to reinforce the actions needed to continue to drive down HIV infections. Continuing to decrease new HIV infections requires prevention in many forms. It requires that individuals know their status and take precautions to protect themselves from HIV. But, it also requires individuals living with HIV take steps not to transit the virus. And one of the most effective ways to prevent transmission of the virus is to have a viral load that is undetectable, due to consistent care and treatment.
However, an article published in last week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report showed that at the end of 2013, 49% of African Americans living with diagnosed HIV had a sup-pressed viral load. A central tenet of CDC’s HIV prevention efforts is encouraging persons living with HIV to get and stay on HIV treatment to reduce their viral loads in order to live well. CDC provides funds and technical assistance to local and state health departments for a spectrum of HIV prevention activities, including testing, expanding the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among individuals at high risk for HIV, and supporting ongoing engagement in medical care and treatment for people living with HIV.
In addition, to help individuals navigate the myriad prevention options to lower their risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV, CDC created the HIV Risk Reduction Tool, an interactive program that allows individuals to determine their risk of HIV and the prevention options most effective for their specific circumstances.
On this NBHAAD, let’s take time to recognize our successes in reducing HIV in the African American community, and let’s use NBHAAD to help focus prevention efforts going forward.
By Dr. Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, (RADM, USPHS), Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Eugene McCray, M.D., Director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, CDC