The number of black women newly infected with HIV in 2010 is 21 percent lower than it was in 2008, according to data released today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The data suggests that [black] women are starting to take control,” says Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS. “They are realizing that this is a threat to their families and their lives.”
There is no clear cause and effect, Fenton says, and a variety of reasons could explain this recent decline. However, over the last five years, the CDC says it’s increased its HIV prevention efforts in the black community, including partnering with organizations to increase HIV testing and treatment.
“And we’re seeing that women are engaging the health care system more and taking up some of those prevention messages,” Fenton says.
But, he cautions: “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Despite this reported decrease, new infections among black women still remain high. Black women account for nearly two-thirds of all new HIV infections among women. They are also still 20 times more likely to become infected with HIV than white women.
Overall, there were 47,500 new HIV cases diagnosed in the United States in 2010, according to the report, which remained stable compared to 2008 — including 20,900 black Americans.
Young black men who have sex with men fared the worst. This group — ages 13 to 24 — actually had an increase in HIV cases from 2008 to 2010, and accounted for more new infections than any other race, ethnicity, age group or gender.
“The crisis among young gay and bisexual men is really a threat to the next generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals,” says Fenton.
In an op-ed for theGrio.com, Fenton explained the “double hurdle” that young black gay men face in staying HIV-free — that of economic hardship and stigmas.
Additionally, young black gay men are more likely than men of other races to have sexual relationships with older men, which can increase their risk of being exposed to HIV simply because older gay men are more likely to be HIV positive.
He added that all young African-Americans — regardless of sexual orientation or gender — are more likely to become infected with other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis, which then makes it easier to transmit HIV.
“It’s a complex problem that requires a complex solution,” Fenton says today. “But, it’s working for black women, now we need to do it for gay men.”
Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.