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aids awareness

While the death rate among Blacks living with HIV is declining in the U.S., it is still higher than any other racial or ethnic group, according to a statement released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ahead of the 16th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, commemorated on Feb. 7 each year.

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Blacks continue to account for more than half of new HIV diagnoses, according to the data collected between 2008 and 2012 and published this week in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, according to The Verge. The numbers show that 48 percent of people with HIV who died in 2012 were Black. And more than 8,100 Blacks with HIV died, compared with 5,400 deaths among Whites, and 2,500 deaths among Hispanics and Latinos, the report says.

Even though African Americans represent only 12 percent of the population, more than a third of people living with HIV in the United States are Black, the CDC says. And new infections among young, gay Black men are increasing at an alarming rate.

“We need to confront HIV in the African American community head-on, using our very best tools and strategies,” said Eugene McCray, M.D., director of the CBC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. “In addition to enabling people living with HIV to live longer and healthier lives, we now know that effective treatment can also greatly reduce the chances of passing the virus to others. This means that providing medical care and treatment could do more than anything else to both protect the health of people living with HIV and prevent new infections.”

The good news is that the death rate per 1,000 Blacks with HIV decreased by 28 percent between 2008 and 2012. The change is bigger than the overall 22 percent decline in deaths per 1,000 people living with HIV during that same period, The Verge reports:

These findings aren’t necessarily easy to interpret, however. The numbers presented in the report are “all-cause mortality” numbers, meaning that they aren’t strictly related to HIV. The report found that injection drug users have the highest death rates, so these numbers probably include events like overdoses. So today’s statistics can’t be used to directly evaluate differences in the quality of care among various ethnicities, the authors write. Still, all-cause mortality is probably the best indicator to use given that HIV infection suppresses the immune system in ways that can result in cancer, or that can leave people vulnerable to various fatal infections.

McCray says HIV testing is the critical first step towards accessing effective care and prevention services. But testing is only the beginning—once diagnosed, people need medical care and treatment.

Toward that effort, the CDC provides targeted support to health departments and community HIV prevention organizations across the country to ensure African Americans diagnosed with HIV are connected to prompt and ongoing medical care. He also said pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a powerful new tool that ultimately could play an important role in driving down HIV among African Americans.

“Because HIV affects us as a community, we have to respond as a community,” McCray said in the statement. “We all need to talk openly about HIV without stigma, shame, or homophobia. We need to increase testing even more to ensure everyone living with HIV knows they are infected. And we need to get informed – everyone should learn how to protect themselves and others from infection, including understanding how treatment can help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and avoid infecting others.”

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