HIV Rates Among Black Women in Some US Cities Now Rivals African Countries

March 9, 2012  |  

Rates of HIV among black women in Baltimore, Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, NC, Washington, DC, Newark, and New York City have been found to be five times higher than previous CDC estimates, and the rate of infection is now equal to some African countries.

The latest data comes from the ISIS (Women’s HIV Seroincidence) Study which analyzes at-risk women in these six urban areas of the United States, which have some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS. A total of 2,099 women ages 18 to 44 who had never had a positive HIV test were included in the study; 88 percent were black and 12 percent Latina. At the time of enrollment, researchers found that 32 women were infected with HIV but were unaware of their status.

Within one year of joining the study, 0.24 percent of the women tested positive for the disease. According to ABC, this number compares to HIV rates found in the general population of many sub-Saharan African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (0.28 percent) and Kenya (0.53 percent).

Dr. Carlos Del Rio, principal investigator for the Atlanta area of the study and professor of medicine and infectious disease at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said “this epidemic is the face of the forgotten people.”

“This disease is alive and well in this country,” he added.

Dr. Del Rio said the “hot spots” for the disease are some of the most impoverished parts of the United States, which is bad from a social standpoint, but the centralization gives healthcare advocates specific targets for intervention efforts. According to Dr. Sally Hodder, lead author of the study and professor of medicine at New Jersey Medical School in Newark:

“Slightly more than 40 percent of the women did not know the HIV status of their last sexual partner. And more than 40 percent of our participants had an annual household income of $10,000 or less.”

Given that information, and the fact that after one-year of follow-up, 10 of the women included in the study died of causes unrelated to HIV, Dr. Del Rio said prevention efforts have to take a multi-pronged approach.

“We can’t just say, ‘Here’s some information on AIDS and here are some condoms. We’re talking about structural interventions that are needed. We need better access to medical care and screenings, substance abuse treatment, education, and job availability for these areas of the country.

“This is going to need some bold leadership and out-of-the-box thinking,” he added. “I do think it really can be stopped, though. It’s not beyond hope and I honestly don’t think it wouldn’t even take that long to eradicate the disease, it just needs a lot of imagination.”

Do you think there’s hope in the fight against HIV among black women? What do you think should be done?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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