New HIV infections among black women in the U.S. are declining for the first time in more than a decade among black women and researchers are watching to see if this will become a long-term trend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said as it prepares for the 13th annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Thursday.
“We do have some good news,” Dr. Donna McCree, associate director of the Health Equity Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the CDC, told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“The recent data we just released showed a decline for the first time in over a decade. We know that black women accounted for 13 percent of new cases and that nearly two-thirds of new cases, about 64 percent, are among women.”
McCree said there was a 21 percent decline in new cases among women overall, but the cause is not yet clear.
“The data don’t really examine specifically the reasons for the decline. It will take additional years of research to determine if this is the beginning of a long-term trend.”
She said the CDC’s efforts, coupled with intensive efforts throughout the black community to call attention to the AIDS epidemic, to get people tested, into treatment and educated about prevention all are having an impact, along with promising research.
Newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals who start medical treatment early reduces the risk of passing the virus to another person and some people are living longer and healthier lives with proper treatment.
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a once-daily pill that helps reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
To ensure the promising results from the available tools to fight HIV, however, African Americans must get into and stay in effective care and treatment to protect their health and that of their partners.
Because so many black Americans are living with HIV, there is a greater risk of infection with every sexual encounter, according to the CDC.
“We really can’t let up,” McCree said.
She said the CDC is also launching a new three-year, $43 million initiative to spread awareness, eliminate social and environmental barriers to preventing HIV and reducing health disparities in communities of color.
“We recently expanded a multimillion dollar testing initiative to reach more African Americans to offer HIV testing,” Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said in a statement released Tuesday.
“And through CDC’s national communications campaign, Act Against AIDS, we are raising awareness and increasing HIV testing among African Americans, including those communities hardest hit by the disease.
“This is encouraging progress, but we can and must do even more.”
Mermin said other factors include: stigma and homophobia, which may prevent many from seeking HIV prevention; economic barriers and lack of insurance, which can limit access to HIV testing, treatment, and care; higher rates of incarceration among African American men, which can disrupt the stability of social and sexual networks in the broader community and decrease the number of available partners for women, helping to fuel the spread of HIV; and higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections, which can facilitate HIV acquisition and transmission.
The CDC urges those who are sexually active to use condoms consistently and correctly, that intravenous drug users use clean needles and never share them and everyone should be tested to know their HIV status and should not hesitate to ask a partner for his or her status or offer to go with the partner to be tested and be retested if and when they change partners.
Health experts also urge people to ask their physicians to include an HIV test as part of their routine annual exam.
Those who have HIV should get in and stay in treatment and take precautions to prevent transmitting HIV to their partners.
To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), visit the National HIV and STD Testing Resources website, or, on your cell phone, text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948).
McCree also said education and open discussion about HIV/AIDS are critical to improving health outcomes.
“Talking openly about it is the only way to really bring it to every aspect of our lives, with our children, peers, partners and getting the media to focus on this issue. We have to create safe spaces to really talk about it,” McCree said.
“As I always say, each of us has the power to make the difference.”