A new report on the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic will soon be released by the Department of Health and Human Services and is expected to convey that the new HIV/AIDS case estimates are 50 percent higher than previously believed by federal health officials. This new information demands greater national attention and action.
Unlike the United States, other nations – such as many in the Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa – have national plans to address HIV/AIDS and are starting to see results. In fact, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recently reported lower HIV/AIDS numbers in the global community; changes that are due to better reporting and surveillance. And while they do not suggest that 33 million, instead of 39 million, global HIV/AIDS cases is acceptable, they do indicate that attention to the global pandemic – though still flawed — has yielded positive results.
Like the global pandemic, the response to domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic is under-funded. Additionally, HIV/AIDS has hit racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans and Hispanics hard, a point that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and others have consistently raised with the president and their colleagues in Congress.
Those efforts led to the creation of the Minority AIDS Initiative in 1998, and continued with increasing that funding from $158 million to over $400 million over the last eight years. As the impact of HIV/AIDS on the African American community worsened, the CBC and its AIDS advocacy partners called for greater attention and action to address the domestic epidemic. Additionally, we have consistently asked the administration to target funding to the hardest hit communities to build capacity as the Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative called for. They have refused!
Today, nearly seven in 10 new AIDS cases are among African Americans or Latinos. Not only are they disproportionately more likely to have an AIDS diagnosis, they also are more likely than their White counterparts to die from AIDS. About 55 percent of all AIDS deaths currently occur among African Americans and 14 percent among Latinos. Additionally, African American and Latino female teenagers, aged 13 to 19 years of age, account for nearly 9 in 10 (86 percent) new AIDS cases among that population group.
While some blame lifestyle decisions and poor HIV education on the rising numbers of domestic HIV/AIDS cases, responsibility must be placed where it belongs: on the current administration. From 2002 to 2007, President Bush has decreased domestic HIV/AIDS by 19 percent.
The CBC has requested meeting with CDC officials to preview the report to ensure a full and accurate reporting of the new numbers. And, as the CBC prepares for the second session of the 110th Congress, we will implement the recommendations of the recent NBLCA Summit with Black Clergy.
The 19th annual World AIDS Day was observed on Dec. 1, 2007. We are now more than 26 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Every report shows that the goal of a world free of AIDS can be achieved with a real commitment and adequate funding from all stakeholders and those affected. It is a promise we must make to ourselves, each other and to future generations.
Delegate Donna Christian-Christensen is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust.