In anticipation of the Obama administration’s plans to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS nationwide, the White House hosted a summit during the week of May 31 aimed at providing insight on how to reduce the number of people suffering form the disease and provide better care for them.
The summit, entitled “The Meeting on Black Males and HIV/AIDS,” was hosted by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. Among the participants were Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and other key members of the president’s leadership team as well as HIV/AIDS services experts, physicians and representatives from civil rights groups. The meeting was hailed as the first of its kind for the White House.
Experts said the rates of contraction of HIV/AIDS among Black males in the U.S. now rival the rates seen in Africa. While African-American males make up just 10 percent of the U.S. population, they reportedly account for as much as half of all new HIV/AIDS cases that occur each year.
According to experts, one out of every 16 Black males will face an HIV diagnosis and the Black population as a whole is seven times more likely than any other ethnic group to contract HIV. Of the 14,000 people who succumb each year to AIDS, half are African-American men.
Ron Simmons, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Us Helping Us, an organization of Black men who openly admit to having sex with other males, attended the summit and participated in one of three panel discussions.
He said the District, where 3 percent of residents are infected with HIV/AIDS, has one of the highest rates of contraction in the country. ?“But we talked a lot about the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among Black men all over the nation, why things are the way they are,” Simmons said, “and how we’re going to come up with solutions.”
Simmons said that, although their rates of HIV infection are high, he believed Black men were less likely to have been infected with the disease during illegal activity such as drug use.
A study commissioned in Washington, D.C. by the HIV/AIDS Administration found that 14 percent of gay men in the District are HIV-positive, five times the rate of infection among all city residents.