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HIV/AIDS in the Black Community

February 7, 2009

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Marked by Discussion of the Issues on “Up Front with Jesse Jackson”

Saturday, February 7, 2009, was National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and on Saturday’s national telecast of ‘Up Front’ with Jesse Jackson, Rev. Jackson and a panel of guests discussed the impact of HIV/AIDS on the black community.

“You must get tested,” said Rev. Jackson. “This disease is a matter of health, life and death.”

Joining him on the program were Dr. Damon Arnold, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health; Lora Branch, director of administration, Chicago Department of Public Health HIV/AIDS Division; Tommy Bennett, national director of community affairs for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Kevin Green, an HIV/AIDS advocate who has been living with the disease for 17 years; and Rev. Gregory Livingston, national field secretary for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

The center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at the end of 2006, 1.1 million adults and adolescents were living with HIV infection in the US. Blacks, who make up approximately 12% of the US population, accounted for 49% of new HIV diagnoses in 2006. Whites accounted for 30% and Hispanics for 18% of new diagnoses.

“Despite the declining number of headlines in the media about HIV/AIDS, this is still a major problem in the African American community,” said Dr. Arnold.

Since the onset of the epidemic in the early 1980s, the face of HIV/AIDS has changed from that of white, gay men to African Americans – gay, straight, young, old, male and female.

Green, living with the disease and diagnosed at the age of 17, dropped out of school after he tested positive and initially rejected treatment.

“For eight years I didn’t do anything about it,” he said. “I have now learned that community support and social support help you survive. “

Bennett noted a drop in transmission rates in the gay community stating, “I think we are seeing a decrease because there has been a great emphasis put on education and prevention. There is still a lot of work to do but I think things are moving in the right direction.”

Rev. Jackson has urged highly visible leaders, including ministers, to take HIV tests in public in order to dispel the stigma attached to the disease. “As a sign of leadership, we cannot put pride over life,” he said.

Many religious leaders have been reluctant to speak out about the disease, fearing that they would be promoting promiscuity or homosexuality.

“I think the church lost sight of our mission,” said Rev. Livingston. “It is our duty to lead, educate and reach out to those who have been cast out by the rest of society.”

Weighing in on how the disease is affecting women, Dr. Branch explained, among female HIV infections diagnosed in 2006, 79% were transmitted through heterosexual contact, and 20% as a result of injection drug use. “Women, if you have doubts about the relationship you are in, you must sit down and have a serious discussion with your partner,” she said.

Upfront airs on at 9 p.m. CST on the Word Network.

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. For more information about the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, please visit www.rainbowpush.org or call (773) 373-3366.