Black and Gay in the USA: The Harsh Truth of HIV and AIDS

A new report shows that black gay men continue to be at higher risk for contracting HIV.

Black gay and bisexual men are are at greater risk for contracting HIV compared to some of their peers, a report finds. (Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images) 

Jul 19, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

A new report looking at the effect of HIV and AIDS on gay and bisexual black men finds that one in four is infected by HIV by the time they’re 25 years old. By age 40, 60 percent of them are living with the virus.

The startling statistics, released in a report by the Black AIDS Institute, offer a sobering look at the lopsided rates of HIV and AIDS that continue among black men who have sex with men (MSM), and how that population fares in terms of access to treatment.

The report, titled “Back of the Line: The State of AIDS Among Black Gay Men in America,” was released today, days before the start of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

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While black MSM represent 9 percent of all MSM in the country, they make up 38 percent of new infection cases among that group.

“From the very earliest epidemiological reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when the disease was still referred to as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, it was clear that Black MSM were disproportionately affected by the disease,” the report says.

But those higher numbers may not be explained by greater levels of sexually risky behavior—in fact, the report said some studies have found risky behavior may be more infrequent in this group compared with white or Latino MSM.

Several other factors may be linked with having a greater risk of contracting HIV: a high frequency of other sexually transmitted diseases, upping the risk of transmitting HIV; early sexual behavior; worse healthcare; and being part of a demographic with higher rates of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and violence.

Despite the bleak numbers, the report says, the crisis has “failed to elicit an appropriate response” among government agencies and leaders.

Still, there is hope, in the form of antiretroviral therapy. The HIV treatment drug Truvada was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for HIV prevention among high-risk people who have tested negative for the virus.

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While the research on the drug is “inspiring,” the report said, it is “unlikely to hasten the end of AIDS among Black MSM without major policy reforms and improved programmatic success.”

This group faces several obstacles to getting healthcare, which may make men less likely to take advantage of treatments that can lower their chances of transmitting HIV.

“Black MSM continue to be first in line when it comes to need, but remain at the back of the line when it comes to assistance,” Phill Wilson, founder and executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, told CNN. “This report not only highlights the gaps and why they still exist after 30 years, but it also provides a blueprint for how to close the gaps and move those most at risk up to the front.”

How can we improve healthcare for black gay men at risk for contracting HIV? Let us know in the comments.

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