Efforts Seeks to Encourage African-Americans To Get Tested
February 7 marked the 13th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD).
NBHAAD represents a call to action for African Americans to learn their HIV status so that HIV-positive persons can hange their behavior to protect others and so they can access the treatment and services needed to live longer healthier lives.
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. She 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.
“The 13th Annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is the first of a series of days created to bring specific attention to targeted communities regarding where they are with this epidemic,” said Fraser-Howze. “It’s about communication and education. It’s important that people understand they have to get educated, involved and treated.”
The initiative was founded by five national organizations funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide capacity building and assistance to black communities and organizations. As part of the effort, posters, postcards and other materials regarding HIV/AIDS are distributed in targeted communities.
“We were concerned that the black community wasn’t receiving the messages like they needed to,” said Fraser-Howze. “We needed another day specifically targeting black people to provide those communities with the information they need. Many are infected, do not know they are affected, and are spreading the disease to others.”
According to the CDC, more than 1.1 million people have HIV, while more than 200,000 people are unknowingly infected with the disease. It is estimated that one in 16 black men and one in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection. According to the CDC, African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV.
“Through market studies, we realized that with all the education out here, people still aren’t getting tested,” she said. “Getting tested is the first step to saving your life. The rate of new infections have gone up in the black community, while the infection rates in other communities have gone down. People have to get tested. That’s the critical piece to the puzzle as to why we haven’t reduced the HIV infection rate in the African-American community.”
Fraser-Howze said she is also starting to see an increase in black women age 50 and over contracting HIV.
“Black gay men and black women continue to account for a large percentage of this epidemic,” she said. “We have to get a handle on these two areas. Many black women are not promiscuous, and feel they have no reason to get tested. During our market research we asked the black women we brought in to rate their risk factor between one and 10 for having this disease. Most said ‘one,’ and their test came back positive.”
She added, “Many women are sleeping with men who are promiscuous, or with men who have a past history of drug abuse, or are sleeping with other men and not using protection. Anytime you have sex with a man or women unprotected, you are sleeping with every person they have every slept with. You cannot have sex with someone without knowing their status and not use protection. If you are negative, do what you have to do to stay negative. It’s best not to have sex with anyone period at this stage of the game. HIV is something you can’t play with anymore.”
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 available for purchase at more than 30,000 retail outlets throughout the country and online.
“Now you can take the test at home and not even have to go to the clinic,” she said. “We need people to know their status. We have infection rates in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. comparable to sub-Sahara Africa. The only way out of our current situation in the black community regarding this epidemic is for people to get tested.”
For more information about NBHAAD visit www.blackaidsday.org.