Color Outside the Lines

A quarter-century later, HIV/AIDS afflicts the black community disproportionately.

By Kia Gregory
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 13, 2006

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What we do know is that zip code 19143 in West Philadelphia has the highest number of AIDS cases in the city, representing 6.9 percent of Philly's 17,000 cases.

Throughout the city 65 percent of those living with AIDS are black, and HIV is growing in black communities.

Blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but represent more than half of new HIV cases.

Blacks are more than seven times more likely to die from AIDS after being diagnosed with HIV than are whites.

And one third of people infected with the AIDS virus don't even know it.

"It's kind of paradoxical," says Bell. "It's getting older and younger. People are getting infected later in life, but we also see people getting infected younger too--especially women. The most glaring trend is the number of women who are becoming infected."

Bell says the youngest female client he's served is 14; the oldest is 82.

Nationally, blacks represent nearly 70 percent of new AIDS cases in women, and AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 34.

After 19 years in the field, Bell searches for ways to alert people to the scope of the crisis.

"We're still struggling with solutions for poverty and violence," he says, "but we know how to stop HIV. We need to face it, head on, and talk about it, but we're not doing that."

In June, with an estimated 25,000 people infected with HIV, Washington, D.C., announced a plan to test everyone in the city between 14 and 84. the city plans to distribute 80,000 20-minute testing kits to hospitals, schools and health organizations before the end of the year. The goal is to make HIV screening as routine as brushing your teeth.

In cities like D.C., New York and Los Angeles, mobile HIV testing units travel the streets like mass transit.

In Philadelphia there's no such coordinated effort.

Prevention efforts aren't working. Outreach efforts aren't working.

The city spent much time and money on an HIV prevention campaign, showing black men in crosshairs on the sides of city buses. The campaign was pulled last month for being racially insensitive.

"It's like fighting a war with sticks and stones," says Bell. "I get frustrated. I get tired. But all I have to do is go out in that waiting room and see all the people."

After 25 years of HIV/AIDS, Bell says, we know how the disease spreads, and we know how it stops.

We can't be afraid to talk about it--at family barbecues, dinner parties, book clubs, church meetings, frat and sorority meetings.

We need to support organizations like BEBASHI with our time and money. And we must get tested and educated.

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