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National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Addresses the Urgency of Testing, Prevention

Sunday, February 05, 2006 | 06:00pm

Tennessee Health Commissioner Urges Community Involvement

Nashville, February 6, 2006

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, observed this Tuesday, February 7, marks the sixth annual observance of the event that aims to motivate African-Americans to get tested and know their HIV status, educated about modes of transmission, involved in their local community and treated if they are currently living with HIV or are newly diagnosed.

African-Americans, particularly African-American women, are most affected by HIV/AIDS in Tennessee. While African-Americans make up about 16 percent of the population, they comprise 60 percent of diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases. Seventy-one percent of Tennessee women diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2004 were African-American. Of the 85 women who died from AIDS in 2004, 75 percent were African-American. African-American men composed 55 percent of infected men and 67 percent of the 235 deaths in Tennessee men.

“African-American communities must address the devastating and deadly impact of the spread of HIV and AIDS in African-Americans,” said Health Commissioner Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D. “It is essential that open and frank dialogue be encouraged, and that practical and targeted approaches be supported in communities of color. Leaders in not only health care, but also in the faith community, neighborhood organizations, business, the arts and the media must really step up and play a role in the education and prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS among racial and ethnic minorities. Literally, it’s about time; about saving years of life from being lost to AIDS.”

Once seen as a disease that targeted homosexual white males, HIV/AIDS has spread across gender, race and ethnic boundaries, and particularly affected the African-American community. Today African-Americans make up the largest group of young people affected by HIV/AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV/AIDS is one of the four leading causes of death for black women, aged 20-24. African-Americans die from AIDS-related complications sooner than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S., most likely because they are diagnosed at a later and more advanced stage of infection.

Approximately half of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses and 51 percent of HIV/AIDS deaths in 33 states were among blacks, although blacks represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population. CDC indicated the trend is continuing into the next generation: 71 percent of infected infants are black and 63 percent of American children under 13 years of age newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are African-American.

“Prevention is the key to stopping the spread of HIV and AIDS. It is important that all sexually active people know their HIV status and that of their partner,” said Jeanece Seals, director of HIV/AIDS/STD Section, Department of Health. “HIV testing should become a routine part of medical care for all sexually active persons and others at risk.”

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system, making it difficult for the body to fight infection and disease. HIV is transmitted by sexual contact with an infected person; by sharing needles and/or syringes with someone who is infected; and from mother to child before or during birth or through breast-feeding. HIV leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the final stage of HIV infection. However, having HIV does not mean that a patient has AIDS. Many people live with HIV for years or even decades before the condition progresses to AIDS.

All health departments in Tennessee offer free HIV/AIDS counseling and testing, as well as referrals to medical and social services for those infected with HIV/AIDS. For more information regarding HIV/AIDS, counseling and testing or medical services, please contact your local health department or visit the Department of Health’s Web site at http://www.tn.gov/health/.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, sponsored by the Strategic Leadership Council, highlights the problem of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community and stresses the importance of black involvement in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. The Council is a consortium of national minority-focused groups funded by the CDC, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. For more information, please visit the www.blackaidsday.org.

Note: This is the first in a series of four media releases issued by the Tennessee Department of Health during Black History Month to address health issues in the African-American community.

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