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National Black HIV-AIDS Awareness Day

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Dr. Ernest Levister

Day in and day out, the national headlines focus on crime, the Bush rhetoric on war with Iraq, his proposed tax cuts, and his dance around the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile, HIV and AIDS quietly takes a devastating toll on the African-American community.

What the headlines don’t reveal is the reality of a disease that has become a quiet epidemic in Black communities across the nation.

The statistics for 1996 through 2002 are sobering: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African-Americans constitute 54 percent of new HIV cases each year.

And although the overall incidence of new AIDS cases has decreased since 1996, the number of people living with AIDS has increased. While Blacks made up 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2001, they represented 50 percent of all new AIDS cases reported nationally that year, a decade ago, that figure was 30 percent.

The incidence of AIDS among homosexual men has decreased slightly since 1998, but among heterosexuals the rate of AIDS diagnoses has jumped 10 percent in that same period.

As of 1999 (the latest available statistics), the CDC estimates that two-thirds of all women diagnosed with AIDS are Black, and that AIDS is now one of the leading causes of death among African-American women between 25 and 44 years of age.

In the nation’s capital, the D.C. Department of Health HIV/AIDS Administration reports that over the last decade, African-American men have come to account for 75 percent of all AIDS cases.

That figure offers a jarring rebuke to the myth that efforts to combat the disease over the last ten years have shown some success.

“There are Black people who think that AIDS is not a problem for them,” says Phill Wilson, executive director of the Los Angeles-based African-American AIDS Policy and Training Institute.

And no matter how many times one hears Wilson’s cautionary phrase, it bears repeating: The fact is, no one is immune.

But some African-American leaders are fighting back.

In more than 60 cities across America, the third annual National Black HIV-AIDS Awareness Day will be observed Friday, February 7, 2003, with free confidential testing for the virus, town meetings and youth education programs.

For more information, visit www.blackaidsday.org on the Web or call your local health department.

It seems almost futile to address crime, war in Iraq, tax cuts, North Korea’s nuclear program and other pressing socioeconomic issues in our community without first ensuring that we aren’t extinguished by HIV AIDS, the quiet epidemic, more importantly by our own apathy, ignorance and denial.

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