by Dr. Kimberly Y. Smith
As we turn our attention to World AIDS Day, it is important for us to renew our focus on confronting HIV as it continues to cause tremendous hardship, pain and devastation within the Black community. Each year, new statistics describing the HIV epidemic in the United States are reported, but the story remains the same—the impact of HIV among Black Americans is dramatically disproportionate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that Blacks / African-Americans made up more than half (51.7%) of the estimated 56,000 new HIV diagnoses annually. Although this is not “news,” it should draw our attention like the boldest newspaper headline.
I am often asked “Why should we care about HIV/AIDS today?” Among many reasons, we must care:
- Because each of the 56,000 new infections is preventable. We must empower ourselves by accepting that some behaviors (i.e., unprotected sex and drug use) increase risk. On the other hand, increasing our knowledge can also lower our risk;
- Because of the young man who did not live to see 30 years of age because he could not get his heart or his head around taking medications everyday;
- Because of the young woman who was just diagnosed, but who cannot imagine how she will tell her family or her friends what she is going through, which could impact her circle of support, and therefore, the success of her treatment;+
- Because we still have a long way to go.
Despite the miraculous developments in HIV treatment over the last three decades, Blacks die at higher rates than any other race due to late diagnosis, poor access to HIV care, HIV-related stigma, and a lower adherence to HIV treatments. We can change this if we re-double our efforts to increase our community’s knowledge about HIV risk, expand testing so those who do test positive can be treated earlier and live longer, and reduce the stigma that still exists nearly 30 years into the epidemic.
I ask each of you to think about what you can do to confront this disease—not just on World AIDS Day—but every day!
About Dr. Kimberly Y. Smith
Dr. Kimberly Y. Smith is an Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases and an HIV specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Her major areas of research interest include HIV/AIDS infection and immunoreconstitution.
Many thanks to Dr. Smith for taking the time to write us this editorial.