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Growing Concern of Aid in the African American Community

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The Growing Epidemic of AIDS/HIV

In the African-American Community

By Idris Abdul Zahir

In the early 1980's Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer usually associated with elderly men of Mediterranean ethnicity. Eventually the men wasted away and died. As the realization that gay men were dying of an otherwise rare cancer began to spread throughout the homosexual and later the medical communities.

The syndrome began to be called by the colloquialism "Gay Cancer". As medical scientists researched, they discovered that the syndrome included other manifestations, such as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP). A rare form of pneumonia caused by protozoa, its name was changed to "GRID", or Gay Related Immune Deficiency. The effect that the stigma of homosexuality had on the general public's perception and handling of the disease cannot be overlooked.

Within the medical community, it quickly became apparent that the disease was not specific to gay men (as blood transfusion patients, heroin users, heterosexual women and newborn babies became added to the list of afflicted), and the renamed the syndrome (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in misconception holds that the disease was introduced by a gay male flight attendant, named Gaetan Dugas, referred to as "Patient Zero".

However, subsequent research has revealed that there were cases of AIDS much earlier than initially known. It has also been theorized that a series of inoculations against hepatitis that were performed in the gay community of San Francisco were tainted with HIV. There is a high correlation between recipients of that vaccination and initial cases of AIDS, though this of course has never been proven to be accurate.

Since the turn of the century, the overall health of all Americans has improved substantially. Although advances in medical and scientific technology have improved the health status of the American people, there is a growing concern and recognition that African-Americans have not benefited equally from the fruits of science. Whereas these facts are not "new news," it is apparent that most of the public and the scientific community are not fully aware of the full impact of these problems.

There are government agencies that aim to provide health services to minorities: the Office of Minority Health (which seeks to develop health policies beneficial to minorities) and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (which seeks to promote minority health and eliminate health disparities).

On June 23, 2004 President George W. Bush spoke at a press conference in Philadelphia, Pa. where he announced his latest HIV/AIDS initiative. He revealed his plan to add $20 million toward current efforts to deliver life-saving HIV/AIDS-related drugs to those in America without access. The number is significant because black women represent a disproportionate number of AIDS-infected cases in the United States. However, the fact remains that president did not use the opportunity he had in Philadelphia to mention the fastest growing segment of AIDS-infected Americans: black women.

The health status of African-Americans and other ethnic minorities became a national priority with the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. Most African Americans suffer from poorer health than the non-minority populations. They die in larger numbers and suffer more illnesses and incidence of disease than the nation as a whole.

African-Americans represent an increasing proportion of the population in the United States. The fate of specially oppressed sectors of society--black people, immigrants and women--is in large part determined by the course of class and social struggle.

Coming out of the struggles of the civil rights movement was a brief moment of the broadening out of public health care, most notably the passage of the Medicaid and Medicare programs, however inferior and substandard. Today, massive cutbacks in Medicaid keep coming down the pike every year. Some 55 percent of people living with AIDS rely on Medicaid. Because of federal cutbacks, nearly every state is cutting back on Medicaid coverage. This will impact HIV-positive people, not to mention poor people in general.

The 1980 Bureau of the Census report indicated that one out of five persons in the United States is a member of a minority group, and that African-Americans are the single largest minority group, constituting 11.5 percent of the country's total population. The number of African-Americans in 1980 was 26.5 million, an increase of approximately 17 percent over the 1970 census figures.

Race and ethnicity are not, by themselves, risk factors for HIV infection. However, African Americans are more likely to face challenges associated with risk for HIV infection. Of persons given a diagnosis of AIDS since 1995, a smaller proportion of African Americans (60%) were alive after 9 years compared with American Indians and Alaska Natives (64%), Hispanics (68%), whites (70%), and Asians and Pacific Islanders (77%).

During 2000-2003, HIV/AIDS rates for African American females were 19 times the rates for white females and 5 times the rates for Hispanic females; they also exceeded the rates for males of all races/ethnicities other than African Americans. Rates for African American males were 7 times those for white males and 3 times those for Hispanic males who died with AIDS in 2003.

According to the 2000 Census, African Americans make up 12.3% of the US population. However, they have accounted for 368,169 (40%) of the 929,985 estimated AIDS cases diagnosed since the epidemic began By the end of December 2003, an estimated 195,891 African Americans with AIDS had died.

During 2000-2003, African Americans accounted for 21,304 (49%) of the 43,171 estimated AIDS cases diagnosed in the United States. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for African Americans was almost 10 times the rate for whites and almost 3 times the rate for Hispanics. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for African American women was 25 times the rate for white women. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for African American men was 8 times the rate for white men.

By the end of December 2003, an estimated 195,891 African Americans with AIDS had died. Of persons given a diagnosis of AIDS since 1995, a smaller proportion of African Americans (60%) were alive after 9 years compared with American Indians and Alaska Natives (64%), Hispanics (68%), whites (70%), and Asians and Pacific Islanders (77%).

In the United States, 172,278 African Americans were living with AIDS. They accounted for 42% of all people in the United States

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