As we commemorate National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7, and honor National Black History Month, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the impact of HIV in the African American community.
Through our professional and personal lenses, we have witnessed the horror of illness, the pain of loss, and the devastating effect that stigma has brought upon too many of our black sisters and brothers as a result of HIV/AIDS. We are aware of the HIV-related disparities that exist for black Americans and the well-documented linkage of those disparities to social determinants of health. An untenable number of our people are tested for HIV too late, learn of their positive HIV status too late, and are linked to care and treatment too late to realize the maximum benefit of the revolutionary, unprecedented progress in understanding how to prevent, diagnose, and treat HIV/AIDS. These truths are especially tragic when, through implementation of the first-ever comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration has directly addressed many of the barriers faced daily by countless people living with — and at risk for — HIV.
As African Americans, we also know our people’s history of overcoming adversity and triumphing against all odds. We can change the course of this disease and significantly diminish the disproportionate burden, but it means making some choices and focusing on the demographic and geographic areas that require our attention.
In Departments and agencies across the federal government, a concerted effort, driven by the NHAS, is already helping to improve the lives of millions. For example, to address the pressing needs in African American communities, the Trans-NIH AIDS research program led by the Office of AIDS Research is redirecting resources to address critical priorities, including the development of better therapeutic regimens and prevention strategies — and eventually a vaccine and cure. Another example is the dually-funded HRSA and CDC “Care and Prevention in the United States" (CAPUS) Program, where 8 of the 10 projects are located in the Southern U.S., and are delivering promising results in geographic settings where many African Americans reside and experience an unequal burden of morbidity and mortality.
In addition to current activities, the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget, released on February 2, offers explicit proposals related to alleviating the effect of HIV. And in the private sector, the NHAS is being supported through Sector Transformation projects that seek to support organizations to recognize new realities and make meaningful change and to honor their history as they take advantage of new opportunities. Organizations are being supported to capitalize on new opportunities through the ACA and to form new partnerships with accountable care organizations and medical homes and to recognize their unique contributions in engaging, linking, and retaining African American communities in both prevention and care activities.
As African Americans who have been impacted by HIV, we are both dedicated to making the difficult choices that will advance our communities, and we are proud to serve a President who is committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation and ending the HIV pandemic.
Vignetta Charles is a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and co-chair of the Access to Care Committee. Douglas Brooks is Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.