National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (#NBHAAD) is February 7.
The special day education and remembrance began in 1999 as a campaign to call attention to HIV and AIDS prevention. Observing the day serves as a reminder for Black communities to get tested, push for more community involvement and education surrounding HIV and AIDS treatment in marginalized communities, and it calls attention to the disproportionate number of Black Americans living with HIV and AIDS.
Roughly one million people in America are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS. Black people make up about 13% of the U.S. population but account for 45.4% of HIV/AIDS cases. “This is something that is disproportionately impacting Black people because of socioeconomic factors and the stigma placed on the community at large,” says Maxx Boykin, policy and organizing manager at Black AIDS Institute. “It’s fitting for it to be in Black History Month, too, because it serves as a larger context for other issues that severely impact Black people than other groups.”
David Lester-Massey, a CDC “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign ambassador, agrees, adding that, “This day also serves as a reminder to those who are not living with HIV, who are sexually active or intravenous drug users, that they are still at risk of transmission.” As a CDC “Let’s Stop HIV Together” ambassador, Lester-Massey targets faith-based and community organizations, and people of color who lack the resources on HIV prevention in Atlanta.
Awareness, he adds, serves as an “in your face” notice, specifically in the Black community because “we are usually the ones who do not have access to adequate education surrounding HIV, yet are the most impacted.”
The statistics do paint a grim picture for Blacks. Boykin says that there are many reasons why the Black community tends to have a higher transmission rate. One, it’s a result of medical racism. There’s already a stigma placed on Black Americans and their treatment in the predominantly white field of medicine—where only 5%of medical doctors are Black. “This is why pushing for culturally affirming health care, not just access to health care, is an important piece to awareness,” says Boykin. “Because the care a white suburban mom will receive is very different from a mom living in urban areas, who may also have different or no access to transportation, for example.”
Other reasons include the socioeconomic disparities and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases due to lack of access to contraceptives or lack of sex education. A report found that the rate of infection was higher in marginalized neighborhoods because of higher rates of substance abuse, where the transmission can happen with shared needles or other unsanitary behaviors.
Experts say early diagnosis is crucial for Black Americans, but many are not getting tested, and as a result, 14%of Black people living with HIV are unaware they are affected. “It’s about fundamental distrust of the medical apparatus in the United States,” says Boykin. “It’s about how the system sees Black people, and on top of that, our folks don’t have access to healthcare on top of not having people who look like them to serve them in the medical field. All of that impacts Black people’s trust in the system.”
People can live long, healthy lives with HIV. “It’s not just this magic thing that Magic Johnson has access to,” adds Boykin. When people find out early and begin treatment there are significantly better outcomes. That’s an area Boykin’s organization Black AIDS Institute has prioritized over the years by assisting those diagnosed with “not only biomedical care but also the mental healthcare and the physical care that people need to continue to live.”
Some practical steps people can take now is to get tested every three months, says Boykin. There are locations across the country that perform testing for free. Beyond getting tested regularly, “having honest, open conversations with sexual partners” is key. Awareness and being practical about it also means supporting and getting involved with community leaders and HIV/AIDS ambassadors’ efforts to “normalize the virus as we have with influenza and COVID-19,” says Lester. It also means becoming intentional about educating one another, practicing safe sex, and getting treatment.
Organizations have a role to play in promoting awareness, too, with their employees. They need to be deliberate about providing resources, creating a safe space where people are “comfortable talking about what’s going on with them,” says Lester. Employee Assistance Programs is a great place to start, he adds, as well as developing zero-tolerance policies against discrimination. This proactive approach will ultimately reduce any associated stigma or misconceptions, and normalize conversations around HIV/AIDS in the workplace.
So, get tested, stay informed, and tap into resources from organizations like Black AIDS Institute,BEAM, and African American Aids Task Force to learn more about preventive measures and how to remain proactive in your community.