Thirty-five years ago in 1981, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released its first-ever publication on HIV/AIDS. Sadly, experts linked the disease to a gay "lifestyle." Since the release of the first statistics, we have made an enormous amount of progress in the work against this epidemic. We have become more enlightened on ways to prevent the virus, and those living with HIV/AIDS are enlightened on how to cope. Despite our progress thus far, we still have a long way to go, and often at times, it looks like our work is just getting started.
Throughout the course of the decades, talking about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has transformed from being a taboo, to an open topic of discussion across several demographics. In fact, myths and preconceived notions about the virus are being enlightened on a constant basis, due to the work of numerous progressive organizations, both faith and community-based. Unfortunately, one thing is still constant: HIV infections in communities of color is still a slow and massive killer. The rate of HIV infections for Black men is the highest of any group, followed by Latino men. If this is not already alarming, Black women have the third highest rate overall across all demographics, and the highest among women.
New York State is among the five states that lead the nation in the number of new HIV incidences. As a result, the state constantly grapples with finding innovative approaches when it comes to tackling the epidemic. On April 29, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a step in the right direction and unveiled his blueprint to end AIDS by 2020. The Blueprint, which was produced by the New York State's End the Epidemic (ETE) Task Force, as a means to an ends for bringing a halt to the spread of HIV in marginalized communities. The ETE plan's stated goals, is to identify people with HIV who remain undiagnosed to healthcare. This plan must not only work in theory, but has to be effective in practice. In order for this plan to work the way it was designed, we need to have community champions who are fighting to alleviate health disparities.
Earlier this month, the world lost Mario Cooper who was described by the New York Times, as a "nexus between AIDS Activists and Black Leaders." Mario died at the age of 61, but he left a legacy through his work. From leading a HIV/AIDS public awareness national campaign -- Leading Life -- to being chairman of the AIDS Action Council Group, Cooper was the voice for the voiceless! He advocated fervently and fought for what he believed in. Cooper served as the middleman between those in Washington and everyday Black America. It is a travesty that he left this world at such a critical time, and his work is not yet done!
The time has come for Black leaders to acknowledge and take ownership of the gospel truth. HIV/AIDS is not only an LGBTQ issue. It is a ravaging health crisis in our community, and current trends project that one in 16 Black men, as well as one in 32 Black women are going to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. This means that it is high time to stop being mute to this health crisis that is affecting people of African-American descent, regardless of whether they live in Indiana or in Harlem.
As Black leaders, it is our duty to preserve our communities. In doing so, we must tackle issues that are at hand and be honest with our constituents. Individuals like Mario Cooper paved the way for us to address the disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS is having on minorities. June 27 marks National HIV Testing Day, and I encourage Black leaders, advocates and activists to get the word out on the importance of getting tested. Knowledge is power, and knowing your status, getting treatment and care, enable a better quality life, regardless of your status.
As the largest non-profit organization of its kind in the U.S.A., The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc. (NBLCA) applauds all the HIV/AIDS pioneers. That being said, we are at a critical point in history, where there is a call to action for Black leaders and all leaders who are going to not sit still, but stand firm in this battle.