If someone told you that your chances of surviving a debilitating disease depended on where you live, the word unjust might come to mind. While many of us think the epidemic of HIV/AIDS has greatly diminished and is no longer the death sentence that it once was, certain communities and groups of people are suffering beyond belief.
More than half of all new HIV cases in the United States are in the South, and Blacks (who represent only 14% of the population) accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections, according to the latest figures. For the first time since 1990, the International AIDS Conference will be held in the U.S. next week in our nation's capital. I'm honored to be speaking at a rally and march being held the day before this conference begins. We must renew our commitment to research, funding and patient care.
On Tuesday, veteran journalist Dan Rather presented a special report titled 'It's a Southern Thing' for AXS TV, focusing on the glaringly high rates of infection in the South and the lack of funding to both educate and combat the disease. According to the report, about 53% of HIV-related deaths in the U.S. are in Southern states, and these are the same states that in turn receive the least federal funding on a proportional basis. While places like New York and San Francisco have worked diligently to educate the public and provide treatment services, many places in the South are struggling immensely because of an inadequate amount of similar resources. Some studies even suggest that a person living in Mississippi with AIDS is 50% more likely to die from it than a person living in New York with AIDS. This is a travesty.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) routinely releases information regarding HIV/AIDS along various demographic lines. Their latest figures (from 2009) paint a dark and troubling picture for Blacks, Latinos and others. According to the CDC, at some point in their life, 1 in 16 Black men will receive a diagnosis of HIV, as will 1 in 32 Black women. In '09, the estimated rate of new HIV infection for Black men was more than six times as high as that of white men, and the rate of infection for Black women was 15 times the rate for White women.
Hispanics/Latinos represent some 16% of the population and accounted for an estimated 20% of new infections. In '09, the estimated rate of new HIV infection among Latino men was two and a half times that of White men, and the rate of infection among Latina women was four and a half times that of White women. And in '07, HIV was the third leading cause of death for Black males and Black females aged 35-44, and the fourth leading cause of death for Hispanic/Latina females in the same age range.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are another group at great risk. They represent approximately 2% of the U.S. population but accounted for more than 50% of all new HIV infections annually from '06-'09 according to the CDC. And unfortunately, because of certain stigmas that exist in many communities, this group often gets delayed diagnosis and treatment.
It is abundantly clear that while the spread of HIV/AIDS has slowed down thanks to education, awareness and prevention, the message and the funding hasn't reached everyone and everywhere equally. As Southern states seek money to help provide treatment to people, and Blacks and Latinos work to do the same in their communities, the rest of us cannot remain silent.
HIV/AIDS has no boundaries. It impacts every corner of the earth across all racial and gender lines. But the prevention and treatment often correlates with one's economic status, race or residency. As leaders from around the world gather next week in D.C. for this annual conference, we cannot fail to highlight our weaknesses in combating the disease here at home. Together, with the international community, we can renew our resolve.