Racial profiling and the mass incarceration of Black people will always be an important topic to address. But according to an op-ed in The New York Times, the issue may also be connected to the growing number of women who are dying from AIDS.
As for the specific cause of the increase, it is unknown. According to the Times, The rate of Black women being infected by HIV is 20 times higher than for white women. In 2004, HIV/AIDS was a major health issue as it emerged as the leading cause of death for Black women ages 25-34. Even Hillary Clinton took note of the impact HIV is having as she mentioned during a 2007 Democratic primary debate, “If H.I.V./AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.”
Overall, the reality is eye-opening, with African-Americans accounting for roughly half of all new infections and deaths from HIV/AIDS, despite making up about 12 percent of the of the population in the United States.
“Given that men who have sex with men account for a majority of H.I.V. cases among both Black and white men, the spike in H.I.V. infections among Black women has perplexed public health officials,” the Times stated. Because most gay men do not have female sexual partners and there are relatively low rates of infection among non-Black women, and because rates of injection drug use or unprotected sex among Black women are no higher than for other groups, the rapid increase in H.I.V./AIDS cases among Black women has been hard to account for. But several public health studies now suggest that because people tend to select sex partners from within their own communities, higher rates of H.I.V. among men who have been in prison may raise the risk of infection in their community.”
So how does mass incarceration fit in to this? Apparently, it goes back a few decades.
From a study conducted by two public policy professors at the University of California, Berkeley, it was determined that the HIV/AIDS infection rate for Black women rose to 19 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women from 1970 to 2000, a period the Times noted as being when the “incarceration rates for Black men skyrocketed to roughly six times the rate for non-Hispanic white men.”
The professors ultimately used variety of sources to look into the connection between the developments and reached a conclusion, stating, “higher incarceration rates among Black males explain the lion’s share of the Black-white disparity in AIDS infection rates among both men and women.”
The Times goes on to reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings that the majority of prisoners with HIV are exposed to the virus before their incarceration as it lists reasons why being behind bars carries a bigger risk of being infected with HIV. Those reasons include a higher prevalence of HIV among prison populations as well as higher than average rates of sexual assault and coercive sex among men in prison. In addition, the publication acknowledged little access inmates have to condoms; injectionable drugs and tattooing and inadequate access people released from prison have to health care and treatment because of unemployment and poverty were given for the incarceration/HIV issue.
Adding to this is the realization that high incarceration rates not only decrease the number of men in Black communities but also damage social relationships, “which may increase the number of concurrent sexual partners each man has.”
Nevertheless, the exact transmission rates for prisoners are unknown. Although secretive or closeted bisexuals have been blamed for the HIV increase among heterosexual Black women, little evidence supports the belief of higher rates of bisexuality among Black Americans who are not in prison.
For more of the Times’ analysis on the increase in Black women dying of AIDS, click here.