Report says half of black MSM will be diagnosed with HIV
Mathew Shaw | Contriubuting Writer
About half of all black men in the U.S. who have sex with men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes, according to a report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also found people living in the South are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than are their northern counterparts.
CDC statistics show that HIV affects African-Americans at a disproportionately high rate. While African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 44 percent of new HIV diagnoses and 41 percent of people living with HIV, a CDC spokeswoman said.
“While there are many factors that contribute to these disparities, CDC research has shown that high community prevalence puts
African-Americans at increased risk of exposure with every sexual encounter,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email.
These factors include economic hardship such as not having the means to see a doctor, being unable to afford the basic necessities and homelessness or unstable housing, the spokeswoman continued. Fear and stigma also prevent many black MSM from getting tested, she added, saying that patients may fear being identified as being HIV-positive or physicians may be reluctant to suggest HIV testing for fear of offending their patients.
“Fear and stigma remain too prevalent across this country and prevent too many from seeking the testing, treatment and support they need,” she said.
In 2014, an estimated 16,146 people were living with HIV in Dallas County, according to data from Dallas County Health and Human Services. HIV cases were disproportionately high among African-Americans, and 58 percent of new diagnoses were in people younger than 35.
Last summer, the CDC began awarding $216 million in grants to 90 community-based organizations in the 50 geographic regions with the highest numbers of HIV cases as of 2011. The funding will last five years.
Of the 90 funded organizations, 67 primarily serve African-Americans, according to a CDC statement announcing the grants. Six of those organizations are in Texas: three in Houston, two in Dallas and one in San Antonio. Dallas’ Abounding Prosperity Inc. received $350,000.
Abounding Prosperity, founded in 2005, works with black gay and bisexual men and transgender women and pushes for health education and disease prevention, according to the organization’s website. CDC funding allowed the organization to provide a high volume of testing and identify newly-diagnosed individuals in the Dallas area. That data fed into the CDC’s new report concerning lifetime HIV infection chances among black MSM, said P.J. Moton, Abounding Prosperity’s interim programs manager.
“It is only within the past five years or so that black MSM have become a priority for funding agents to provide resources for prevention and linkage services,” Moton said. He added that the organization seeks to instill hope in young black MSM who might have a “learned hopelessness” from the reports of the high levels of HIV in their communities.
“If I, as a young black MSM, hear my entire young adult and adult life that I will ultimately end up HIV-positive anyway, what then is the motivation to protect myself in efforts to avoid seroconversion?” Moton said. “These are not the messages we want our community to be exposed to.”
Regarding the high levels of HIV among African-Americans, Moton said black MSM are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
But “because of the high concentration of the virus in this particular community, black MSM have a higher chance of being exposed to the virus within their sexual network.”
To address the HIV rates, Moton utilizes his social media presence to post things such as safe sex encouragements and testing dates and reminders. “We do this at [Abounding Prosperity] as well because we realize the impact of social media on today’s society,” he said.
But Auntjuan Wiley, president and CEO of AIDS Walk South Dallas Inc., said there are deeper reasons for high HIV numbers among black MSM.
“I think we have to look at the whole gamut of circumstances that cause people to continue to put themselves at risk,” Wiley said.
“Something is fueling them to continue to have unprotected sex.”
Those circumstances, he suggested, include homelessness, addiction, abuse and mental health issues.
Last year, AIDS Walk South Dallas hosted a strength conference, where HIV-positive men from around the country gathered to talk about the reasons behind these infections, how they became infected and prevention efforts. The first conference, held last year, attracted 54 men, Wiley said.
“I think it starts with the conversation,” he said. “We don’t talk, we just get money from the federal government, and these programs are unsuccessful because we haven’t talked to the people that we serve and found out what works for them, rather than what works for us to continue to get federal money.”
For Moton, the most relevant issue that black MSM face is the systemic barriers that prevent them from accessing equitable health resources and services.
“Too often reporting entities want to talk about the problem without including issues like not expanding Medicaid so black MSM have baseline health coverage regardless of their HIV status,” he said.
Moton also sees a need to be included in prevention efforts. “We need to ask black gay and bisexual men, transgender men and women what kind of programs and health care they want or what types of programs work for them,” he said. “Too often the community is talked about and dictated to, but not included in decisions.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2016.