Human Immunodeficiency Virus

Tonja Ward | 6/11/2008, 10:53 p.m.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV/AIDS reached epidemic proportions in the mid 1980s ...

HIV/AIDS reached epidemic proportions in the mid 1980s where more than 150,000 new cases were being diagnosed annually.  It has since stabilized at approximately 40,000 new cases annually. This decrease in cases gives hope but cannot take away from the fact that HIV/AIDS is still a health crisis of epidemic proportions.

HIV/AIDS Among Minorities

HIV/AIDS still has a devastating impact on minorities in the United States. Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for approximately 68 percent of the newly diagnosed cases (including children) of HIV and AIDS in 2005. The majority of babies born with HIV/AIDS in 2005 (86 percent) belong to racial/ethnic minority groups.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a particularly serious health crisis for the African American community. African Americans accounted for 18,510 (49%) of the 38,096 new HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in 2005. African American men are more than nine times more likely to die of AIDS than non-Hispanic White men. AIDS is the leading cause of death in African American women aged 25-34 and the third leading cause of death in African American men in the same age group.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, African Americans have accounted for 399,637 (42%) of the estimated 956,666 AIDS cases diagnosed in the U.S.  The years of survival of African Americans after diagnosis is lower than all other ethnic groups and whites.

HIV/AIDS is spreading at a rapid rate in the Hispanic community. Hispanics accounted for 18 percent of AIDS cases in 2005, despite making up only 14 percent of the U.S. population. Hispanics are 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than non-Hispanic Whites. Hispanic males were also almost three times more likely to die of AIDS than their non-Hispanic White counterparts in 2004.

Risk Factors

The main risk factors are sexual contact between men, high-risk heterosexual contact and injection drug use.  For African American men the primary transmission category was sexual contact with men followed by injection drug use and high-risk sexual contact.  For African American women high-risk heterosexual contact was first followed by injection drug use.

There are also risks associated with lack of awareness of one’s HIV serostatus, homophobia and concealment of homosexual behavior.

Socioeconomic issues and other social and structural influences have also been found to affect the rate of HIV infection.  The socioeconomic problems associated with poverty such as limited access to high quality health care, housing and HIV prevention education or indirectly increase risk factors.

Stopping the Epidemic

To reduce the incidence of HIV further the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched the Advancing HIV Prevention initiative in 2003.  The strategies of this initiative are to make HIV testing a routine part of medical care, implementing new models for diagnosing HIV outside medical settings, preventing new infections by working with HIV patients and their partners and decreasing perinatal HIV transmission.

Increasing awareness and education is key to continuing the decline in new HIV/AIDS cases and changing the future affects of HIV/AIDS on the African American community. This must be done in a collaborative effort between the CDC, community members and influential leaders.