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HIV/AIDS: Taking It to the Streets

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By Phill Wilson –

(NNPA) Welcome to “Greater than AIDS”, a year-long series of articles and editorials sponsored by the NNPA Foundation, The Black Press U.S.A. and the Black AIDs Institute about the state of AIDS in Black America.

As is the tradition among many Black folks, the New Year marks a time when we take stock of our progress and plan where we are going for the coming year. Last year saw some tremendous advances in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including long-awaited scientific breakthroughs that may soon help prevent HIV, but also some major setbacks.

As we move into 2011, here are five ways that the Black community can mobilize itself to bring us closer to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our communities.

1) Develop strategies that acknowledge and address the new political realities
The mid-term elections shifted America's political landscape, including for the HIV/AIDS movement. With a divided federal government--Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and Democrats controlling the Senate and Executive branch--we need to focus on new ways to create policy change. We need to be more strategic in our policy work and, quite frankly, engage in some good, old-fashioned education and advocacy work.

First, we must identify who among our allies remains in the Congress. It's time to remind these old friends that we still need their support and that the work they have engaged in thus far has not been in vain. We also need to create new supporters. This means spending time briefing our newly elected public officials to help them understand the important role they can play.

This requires creating profiles of the members of Congress representing key districts, understanding what the AIDS epidemic looks like and informing the representatives about how it affects their district, and then educating and mobilizing their constituents to communicate to these representatives the importance of HIV/AIDS issues.

2) Protect healthcare reform from those vowing to dismantle or disable it
The Healthcare Affordability Act was probably the most significant HIV-related legislation in the history of the epidemic. The removal of previously existing conditions, the lifting of the lifetime and annual bans, the potential adjustments in Medicare and Medicaid and the creation of health zones are extremely important for people living with HIV.

In 2011 healthcare reform will face numerous challenges. Chief among them: Many freshman members of the 112th Congress campaigned on a pledge to kill healthcare reform and cut the federal deficit. It is highly unlikely they will repeal healthcare reform, but they may succeed in starving it by depriving critical measures of funding and/or delaying and/or complicating their implementation. We need to be vigilant to make sure this doesn't happen. But, we can't scale up without additional resources. The current economic climate--and specifically the budget limitations facing federal, state, and local governments--will seriously undermine our ability to actually implement healthcare reform's various measures.

3) Transform the National HIV/AIDS Strategy into a living document that benefits Black Americans
This plan exemplifies the maxim "the devil is in the details". The NHAS has some clear and concise goals and objectives, so now we finally have a picture of where we are heading as a nation. Now the challenge lies in answering questions like:

· Exactly how do we get there?

· Who has the roadmap?

· What route are we taking?

· What in the plan speaks to the most vulnerable among us?

· And how does the plan address the unique HIV challenges facing Black America?

We need to analyze the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and translate it into a policy document that relates explicitly and specifically to Black people, then we need to develop strategies to mobilize African Americans to make sure we are involved every step of the way.

4) Prepare our community to benefit from recent scientific breakthroughs
There were at least three major scientific breakthroughs in 2010. Now, we must make sure that Black people are not denied the benefit of these advances. If a cure for AIDS were discovered today, the infrastructure does not exist to ensure Black Americans would have access to it. It is more important than ever that we raise HIV science literacy in Black communities. We need to build a Black AIDS-treatment network composed of community members, clinicians, and people living with HIV and AIDS who educate Black America on the state of HIV science and treatment, and ensure that people who need care and treatment have access to and utilize it.

5) Have conversations about HIV/AIDS with those who need them most
For the first time in the history of the AIDS epidemic, we have launched an aggressive HIV/AIDS social-marketing campaign targeting Black America. In 2010 that movement expanded to include explicit messages to gay and bisexual Black men, as well as to women, faith leaders, and people living with HIV. In 2011 we need to expand these efforts, in particular targeting gay and bisexual men more robustly. Whether we are talking about teen pregnancy or HIV, too often in our communities the folks who need information the most are the very folks for whom we are most reluctant to design messages. We cannot end the HIV epidemic in Black America if we allow homophobia or a general discomfort with talking about sex and sexuality to prevent us from creating an honest, frank, and vigorous HIV conversation about, with and by Black gay and bisexual men.

In short, we are at a crossroad. We are not where we used to be, but when and whether we get to where we need to be may well be determined by what path each and every one of us chooses today. No matter who you are and where you are, there is a role for you to play in ending the HIV/AIDS epidemics. There are no innocent bystanders in this fight. Pick a battle and get involved.

Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only National HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. He can be reached at PhillWilson@BlackAIDS.org

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