Let’s End the Epidemic for Everyone
In addition to the challenges, as we collectively continue to face entering the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black and other people of color communities and shaken up the world, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that our nation continues to deal with an epidemic that has been around since 1981. An epidemic that also disproportionately affects Black and other people of color communities.
Tremendous progress has been made to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS over the last several decades, yet there remains so much to be done. This year, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day will be acknowledged on February 7. Since 1999, the day has been used annually to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in communities of color.
The last published HIV Surveillance report by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, noted that, “African Americans are disproportionately affected by the HIV/stage 3 HIV (AIDS) burden. While 22 percent of Delaware’s total population is African American, this group accounts for 65 percent of all HIV/stage 3 HIV (AIDS) cases ever diagnosed in the state. This racial disparity is more pronounced in Delaware compared to the general U.S. population and persists. Of all persons living with a diagnosed HIV infection, African Americans account for 41 percent in the U.S. and 58 percent in Delaware.” The report also informs us that, “Among new HIV infections diagnosed in Delaware from 2015 through 2019, the largest proportion were attributable to men who have sex with men.” This knowledge connects to the overall national outlook.
Of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV, an estimated 479,300 are Black. A deeper dive by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that, “Black gay and bisexual men accounted for the largest number of new diagnoses among this group in 2019, followed by Latino gay and bisexual men.” Additionally, Kaiser pointed to recent reports that say, “Black gay and bisexual men were found to be at a much higher risk of being diagnosed with HIV during their lifetimes compared with Latino and white gay and bisexual men. Young Black gay and bisexual men are at particular risk.” Black gay and bisexual men ages 20-29 accounted for 51 percent of new diagnoses in 2019 among that age group and 13 percent of all diagnoses.
There are two scenes from my college career that I will never forget. One is while sitting in my dorm room working on an assignment, I got a call from a friend. He told me to make sure that I was sitting down because he had something important to tell me. There was a long silence and then my friend, known for being a loud talker, told me very quietly that he was recently diagnosed with HIV. It felt like time stood still. I thought about how brave he was to have gotten tested and how much courage it took for him to go back and get the results on his own. I didn’t quite know what to say and for a long time I didn’t. Finally, words came to me. I shared that I cared about him deeply and that I was there to support him however I could as he figured things out. I was 20 and he just a year older.
Not long after that, in the same dorm room, I hopped out of my bed to answer the phone one afternoon. It was my mom. She called to tell me that my uncle, the first Black gay man that I think I ever really knew, had died and I needed to make arrangements to come home for the funeral. My uncle died of complications related to his HIV/AIDS diagnosis.
Thankfully, because of all the advances in treatment, we don’t now get many calls about the deaths of our beloved friends and relatives. But sadly, decades later, there are still too many new infections. Just last summer, another friend confided in me his recent diagnosis. The epidemic persists—but it does not have to. Twenty years after I’ve completed college, young gay and bisexual men are grappling with the epidemic that we must finally bring to a close so that another generation does not do the same.
The structural and social barriers that keep the epidemic going—the stigma, homophobia, discrimination, racism, economic factors, and lack of access to care—have to be addressed. We must act as individuals and work as a community with care, compassion, and concern to end HIV/AIDS for everyone. Get tested. Know your status. Connect to the treatment or prevention model that works for you. Build true community. Advocate for equity. ▼
Clarence J. Fluker is a public affairs and social impact strategist. He’s also a contributing writer for Swerv, a lifestyle periodical celebrating African American LGBTQ+ culture and community. Follow him on Twitter: @CJFluker or Instagram: