On Feb. 7, 2016, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day marks its 16th year, working toward stepped up education, prevention, and testing efforts, as well as boosting access to treatment for those in the African American community.
The day was founded in 1999 by several organizations including: Concerned Black Men, Inc. of Philadelphia; Health Watch Information and Promotion Services, Inc.; Jackson State University-Mississippi Urban Research Center; National Black Alcoholism and Addictions Council; and the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. It is currently directed by The Strategic Leadership Council in coordination with the Centers Disease for Control and Prevention and a constellation of other organizations, including the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. This year’s theme is “I Am My Brother and Sister’s Keeper.”
Infectious Disease Advisor spoke with Eugene McCray, MD, Director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Debra Y. Fraser-Howza, Senior Vice President of Government and External Affairs at OraSure Technologies, Inc., developer of the first rapid oral HIV test, to discuss why this day is still marked, 16 years after its inception.
“African Americans remain disproportionately affected by the virus. While some signs have emerged that the HIV epidemic is loosening its grip on the community, persistent disparities are prolonging the epidemic. To achieve a future without HIV, we must ensure all prevention efforts are reaching all populations equally,” Dr McCray said.
One example of a treatment disparity that he cited involved recently published data from the CDC that demonstrate that “African Americans living with HIV are less likely than white or Latino Americans to receive consistent, ongoing HIV care. … Only about 38% of African Americans got consistent care from 2011 – 2013, compared with about half of white and Latino Americans,” he noted, citing a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published this week in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.1
The day is designed to “raise actionable awareness,” among physicians and patients, according to the experts interviewed by Infectious Disease Advisor.
“One simple action that everyone can take is to get tested for HIV. Although high testing rates among African Americans are encouraging, we must ensure that all people living with HIV know their status – and for those who are living with HIV to be linked to care and stay in care,” Dr McCray said.
Emphasizing the importance of rapid HIV testing is a vital initiative, explained Dr. McCray. To boost HIV testing rates, Ms. Fraser-Howza said that a deeper understanding of African American culture and communities are essential in encouraging people of color to get tested and in combating the disease. She said that this is done through alternative site testing – such as going into beauty parlors and barber shops where the community gathers to discuss what could be considered sensitive topics. The development of OraQuick, the rapid oral HIV test with 99.9% accuracy is used in these settings, she said. Condom use was also demonstrated in these alternative testing sites, Ms Fraser-Howza added.
“The day was…designed to give our community a safe space and time to talk with one another,” Ms Fraser-Howza explained. “The African American community tends to be rather conservative about public health discussions that involve sexual activity.” She said the day was started to create a freedom in the media and in the community to talk about these issues openly. She also said the date in February was purposely chosen alongside Black History Month, when African Americans are celebrated for their contributions to American history.
Ms Fraser-Howza said physicians, regardless of race, need to become comfortable having a cultural conversation with black patients to address HIV/AIDS related health issues. “Sometimes physicians are reluctant to have these conversations, but the reality is it is their role and responsibility to ask if a patient should be tested,” Ms Fraser-Howza said.
Dr McCray added that physicians also need to connect those at substantial risk for HIV infection to other powerful prevention tools, like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). “We must continue scaling up and accelerating access to PrEP among African Americans – particularly black women who are at substantial risk for HIV infection, as well as young black men who have sex with men – to continue curbing new infections,” he said.
Ms Fraser-Howza is is Senior Vice President of Government and External Affairs at OraSure Technologies, Inc., who developed OraQuick.
CDC. Disparities in Consistent Retention in HIV Care — 11 States and the District of Columbia, 2011–2013. MMWR. 2016; 65(4);77–82