Blacks Account for Half of New Infections
Saturday, December 1, 2012 marks World AIDS Day. This is the 25th year of the global effort declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, show their support for people living with the disease, and to commemorate people who have died.
Debra Y. Fraser-Howze is senior vice president of Government and External Affairs at OraSure Technologies, a leader in the development, manufacture and distribution of oral fluid diagnostic and collection devices and other technologies designed to detect or diagnose critical medical conditions.
“World AIDS Day is the recognition of AIDS in the world,” said Fraser-Howze. “This day provides the opportunity to place the issue of AIDS on a world stage, which is critically important.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.1 million people have HIV, while more than 200,000 people are unknowingly infected with the disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide, the estimated number of people living with HIV is more than 34 million. WHO also notes that every day nearly 7,000 people contract HIV, which equates to nearly 300 new infections, each hour. In 2011, 1.7 million people died from AIDS.
“Twenty five years ago when World AIDS Day began, it was viewed by communities of color as a blessing because it marked one of the very first times the African American community was connected to the African and international community regarding this epidemic,” she said. “It was the first time a vast amount of information came out about AIDS across the continent.”
She added, “We began to see what was going on with men and women here in the United States and in Africa. One of the things, that was striking was the large number of women in Africa who were HIV positive, and how women in the U.S. weren’t getting tested because of the disease in the gay community. We went unchecked for so long because there was so very little education and understanding. World AIDS Day opened a new door around this epidemic, and things we had not seen on a global level.”
According to the CDC, African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV. The CDC points out that in 2009, African Americans comprised 14 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections. Fraser-Howze attributed the troubling statistics to a number of factors.
“What is most important is looking at the new infections,” said Fraser-Howze. “African Americans now account for more than 50 percent of new HIV infections. We have so much on our plate economically and sociologically. We are often in stressful environments, we are not taking this disease as seriously as we should, and we are not heeding the warning.”
She added, “We also have an entire generation of young people never knowing a time when AIDS did not exist. They don’t understand that having unprotected sex puts them at risk. My generation saw young people dying with this disease.”
Fraser-Howze said she is also starting to see an increase in women age 50 and over contracting HIV. “Women over 50 who occasionally have sex are beginning to put their guard down. They are worried about what he will think if she asks him to use a condom. Now the 30-somethings have to tell the 50-something-year-old females to protect themselves in order to save each other’s lives.”
Fraser-Howze is also the founder and past president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA), the largest Black HIV and AIDS non-profit organization of its kind in America. She was the first to mobilize a broad coalition of African American Leaders that included clergy, and political leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS at a time when many were unaware of the disease or the danger to the community.
In her role with OraSure Technologies, Fraser-Howze’s responsibilities include developing business opportunities in new markets with lawmakers to ensure resources are available to communities in need of testing.
In July, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OraSure Technologies’ OraQuick In-Home HIV Test for sale directly to consumers in the over-the-counter market. The test is now available for purchase at more than 30,000 retail outlets throughout the country and online.
“Hopefully with the new in-home test people will realize this additional option is out there,” she said. “We know there are those who will not go to a public health clinic or a doctor’s office. Now you can buy a box off the shelf and know your status in about 20 minutes. The test is $39.99 and is available in retail stores across America. This is a small price to pay for this information.”