Just in time for National HIV Testing Day on June 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered some encouraging news: for the first time in a decade, the HIV infection rate among Black women declined.

Between 2008 and 2010, the latest available data, the incidence rate among that group fell a healthy 21 percent, the agency said.

“It’s probably a little too early to declare victory,” said Donna Hubbard McCree, associate director for Health Equity in the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, told The Root. “But are we evolving as the epidemic evolves? Are we cautiously optimistic? I’d have to say yes.”

Health officials attributed the improvement to outreach efforts which targeted those who had not previously been tested. Between 2007 and 2010, free HIV testing was made available at clinics and nontraditional sites in 25 communities with particularly elevated HIV infection rates through the $102.3 million Expanded Testing Initiative. Of the 2.78 million people tested, 30,000 came back positive.

“It is beyond refreshing and rewarding to see our campaigns have that sort of impact,” McCree said. “But I think that what we are seeing with Black women and HIV infections, if it holds as we get the 2011 and 2012 data, may also be about what I say is a growing understanding, a fact-based understanding, about risk.”

Black women have long borne a disproportionately high HIV infection rate, and while the new CDC data is a ray of light, the situation overall remains gloomy.

Black women accounted for 13 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010 and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all new infections among women. They also outpaced the rates of women of other races and ethnicities. The rate of new HIV infections among Black women in 2010 (6,100) was 20 times that of White women and nearly five times that of Hispanic women—and those rates reflected a widening disparity.

In the CDC’s previous incidence analysis, the HIV infection rate among Black women was 15 times that of White women and more than three times that of Hispanic women.

The disproportionate impact is equally present among Black men, who accounted for almost one-third (31 percent) of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010, or 14,700. The rate of new infections among Black men was the highest of any group by race and sex — more than six times that of White men. An overwhelming majority (72 percent) of infections among Black men were among those engaging in sex with other men.

Together, Black men and women bear the greatest burden of HIV in the United States. Though African Americans comprise approximately 14 percent of the total U.S. population, they accounted for almost half (44 percent) of all new HIV infections in 2010.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO