By W. Jeffrey Campbell
If the rate of unprotected sex among Black MSM is very similar to that of White MSM then why is the rate of newly diagnosed cases of HIV among Black MSM a minimum of 4 times greater than that of our white counterparts?
This was the question of the day in several of the sessions that I attended at the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, GA on today. These are the shocking reports on behaviors and data from 2006-2009. This information was somewhat of a blow after the 2006 reports indicated that 46% of Black MSM who were tested for HIV tested positive.
Researchers, although half scratching their heads, are leaning toward a possible reality that there is a great presence of HIV in the Black community overall including the Black MSM community. This high prevalence of HIV coupled with the data that indicates that Black MSM are more likely to have sex with other Black MSM rather than with men from other ethnic backgrounds, gives Black men less room for error when having sex. To add insult to injury, Black MSM are more likely to be in the AIDS stages of the virus when they do test or when they finally show up for treatment and care. Further, Black MSM are less likely to get on a treatment regimen and adhere to it when they know they are living with HIV and/or AIDS.
How will policy makers, funding sources, health departments and community business organizations respond to this epidemic that is now 30 years old? We can no longer operate as islands. We must unite in this fight against HIV. In order to fight effectively somebody is going to have to give up some power and make room for a bigger vision that clearly includes the needs of the audiences that are most affected by the virus. Funding agencies and service providers are going to have to work across the fences in a political climate where our politicians are clearly not willing to work together for the common good of the people. This makes the possibility of becoming team players seem less likely.
So, in the meantime perhaps Black MSM will decide to come together and fight the giant from within rather than waiting on governmental agencies to ride in on white horse and save the day. It makes more sense that Black MSM across this nation will take on the spirit of our fore-parents and unite to save our lives and the lives of Black MSM that have yet to be born. Perhaps we will take our fight outside of the walls of these conferences and take the fights to the streets, in the clubs, to the chat rooms and to the churches in an effort to change the course of our community. What is clear is that we will have to love ourselves and our brothers enough to leave our personal agendas aside and fight for the common good of the community.
Some strategies that have been mentioned include:
- Developing and launching effective mentoring programs;
- MSM who are living with HIV/AIDS being more open about their HIV status;
- MSM who are HIV negative being celebrated without demeaning or demonizing our HIV positive brothers;
- Holding the producers and marketers of porn movies that show bare-backing accountable and working to shut them down;
- Celebrating healthy relationships and encouraging that option for those who choose to be in a relationship;
- Uniting with advocates outside of our target audience who are REALLY down for the cause…there is no time to waste with pretentious people who are only on-board for a check.
Another day is coming to a close. Someone today is living with HIV who was free of this disease on yesterday. Someone who was alive on yesterday, died due to AIDS related complications on today. Statistics show that more than likely the person in everyone of these cases was a Black man who has sex with other men. Let’s make the change that we need today so that tomorrow will not bear the same grim news….
The 2011 National HIV Prevention Conference was held August 14-17 in Atlanta at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and the Marriott Marquis hotels. The conference organizers are committed to ensuring that this conference contributes to achieving the three primary goals defined in that plan that include reducing the number of people who become infected with HIV, Increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV and, Reducing HIV-related health disparities.