Black Women and the AIDS Crisis

05/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Every 9 1/2 minutes, someone in the U.S is infected with HIV. That is the premise of a campaign titled, "9 1/2 Minutes," launched by the Act Against AIDS Campaign.

April is STD Awareness Month. As the month draws to an end, I have composed this message to one group that should be paying close attention to what is going on in the world of sexually transmitted diseases: black women. To say STDs disproportionately affect black women would be a gross understatement.

Did you know that AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women aged 25-34? Besides men who have sex with men and bisexuals in the black community, black women are the most affected. Black women made up 35% of new infections among our racial group. As a racial group, this disease affects black women more than any other. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of occurrence or HIV incidence among black women is about 15 times as high as that of white women.

According to Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS at the CDC, one in 30 black women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in her lifetime. That is unacceptable. Here's another startling statistic, gonorrhea is 19 times higher in African-Americans as it is whites. Earlier this year, we found out that black girls 15-19 are disproportionately affected by chlamydia. This high rate of STD/STI transmission aids in facilitating HIV/AIDS infections; it is a domino effect.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the 17th Annual International AIDS conference held in Mexico City, Mexico. There, I sat down with Dr. Fenton and discussed AIDS and its ravaging affect in America. One of the things he told me in the interview was that the numbers, "should serve as a wakeup call to do more and do it faster."

I also spent some time in Washington D.C studying a variety of health topics. The one that was covered the most intensely was HIV/AIDS. I learned from people, including, Jonathan Zenilman, M.D., Chief-Infectious Diseases Division at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, that the District of Columbia has a major HIV/AIDS problem on its hands. How can the nation's capital have rates that compare to that of third world countries?

Therefore, it was not a shock when a report funded by the CDC and carried out by members of the George Washington University School of Health and Health Services concluded earlier this year that 3% of residents of D.C have HIV or AIDS. That 3% only includes residents who have been tested. When an illness effects 1% of a population that is considered a "generalized and severe" epidemic. The rates are higher than those in West Africa. Black women in D.C make up more than 25% of those living with the infection or disease.

In the report, "Left Behind - Black America: A Neglected Priority," released in August 2008 by the Black AIDS Institute, the United States was criticized for what the organization called a "timid and lethargic" response to the most serious health crisis facing black America. I interviewed Phill Wilson, the founder and executive director of the Black AIDS Institute and he told me that if black America were its own country it would be rank as number 16 in the global AIDS epidemic. When the White House and CDC announced the start of the "Act Against AIDS," it was a step in the right direction.

In a country where blacks make up only 12% of the population, we should not be making up 46% of the HIV/AIDS cases. Let us not fail our children, our community and ourselves. The situation is not irredeemable. The solution to this crisis begins at home. Let's start thinking about the social and cultural norms that may be driving this epidemic.

So today, I am urging black women to do more. Get tested; protect yourself. Women need to have a more intensified response to this killer. Let's not only count on governmental officials to take action. I urge you, my black sister friend to react to this threat as you would to an IED (improvised explosive device) killing your brother, father or son in the Iraqi war. Get as angry as you would at the random killings of our young black men by stray bullets in poverty stricken areas. Get the facts. Get upset and get mobilized.