For more than 10 years, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day has been a platform for officials and community leaders to discuss the deadly affliction. This year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Councilman Nick Mosby, and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot joined with Total Health Care and took to the streets of west Baltimore to share information.

In a Feb. 7 event at Total Health Care outside Mondawmin Mall, the city officials recognized National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day as an opportunity to continue to mobilize African-American communities in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was created to encourage people to get educated, to get tested, to get involved and most importantly—I think—to get treated,” the mayor said. “African-Americans face the most severe burden of HIV/AIDS, more than any ethnic group in our nation.”

Started in 1999, the day was established in an effort to bring together those in the African American community who have been affected by the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV affliction has reached crisis levels in the African-American community. Black youth represent 57 percent of all new HIV infections among young people ages 13 to 24.

“Even though the numbers in Baltimore City have been improving, we are still one of the leaders in the country with regards to new HIV diagnoses,” Barbot said.

According to Barbot, between 2009 and 2011 the city made strides in reducing the number of new HIV infections. She said that rate fell 25 percent citywide, but in the African American community, it increased by 1.5 percent. African-Americans accounted for approximately 85 percent of all current HIV/AIDS cases in Baltimore, a total of more than 10,200 people.

Barbot attributed the citywide decrease to a combination of factors. The health department has “been partnering with healthcare providers throughout the city in terms of increasing the amount of testing that is done,” she said. “Additionally, we are working with community partners that serve communities that are most affected.”

Barbot said the partnerships help ensure that education and self-care is spread in those communities.

Mosby, who represents District 7, said he will focus on improving outcomes for those living with the disease.

“This is a critically important topic,” he said. “The one thing we can say about HIV/AIDS is that it is an epidemic and it’s no time for us to act as if it’s not a problem. It’s no time for us to not act as if we don’t know the statistics.

Mosby said his district comprises 13 percent of the HIV/AIDS reported cases in Baltimore City.

“This is an epidemic,” he said. “Folks understand and know this is critically important that we continue to put out awareness, because this is preventable.”

City resident Shannon Massey said she became infected with the HIV virus more than 30 years ago. Once she discovered she was HIV positive, Massey said she took the news to her healthcare provider at Total Health Care, who educated her about the necessary procedures she needed to live her life with HIV.

“Today I am living happy,” she said. “My parents and family are involved. We are all safe because I’m doing the right thing. I’m happy to share my information with everybody. There is no need to be ashamed because I utilize each and everything they have to offer.”

In honor of National Black HIV/Aids Awareness Day, Total Health Care held afternoon education, health, prevention and testing sessions at their Mondawmin Mall location. Later that night, the health department conducted additional testing at the Paradox nightclub.

Blair Adams

AFRO Staff Writer