February 7th 2019 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) and the theme for this year is: “Together for Love: Stop HIV Stigma”. Across the nation each year, individuals and organizations like Whittier Street Health Center join the nation to observe National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to promote HIV education, testing, involve the community in HIV prevention and awareness and treatment.
It has been well documented in various research and surveillance data that Blacks are the hardest affected group by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. According to CDC compared with other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses, those living with HIV, and those ever diagnosed with AIDS.
HIV/AIDS in the United States
The CDC reported that in 2014, 44% (19,540) of estimated new HIV diagnoses in the United States were among African Americans, who comprise 12% of the US population. Also among all African Americans diagnosed with HIV in 2014, an estimated 73% (14,305) were men and 26% (5,128) were women. When broken down to sexual orientation, an estimated 57% (11,201) were gay or bisexual men. Of those gay and bisexual men, 39% (4,321) were young men aged 13 to 24. Black/African American gay and bisexual men accounted for the largest number of HIV diagnoses (10,315), followed by white gay and bisexual men (7,570). These statistics are very scary and require a call for action to halt the trend of African Americans being such a large portion of newly infected individuals yet only comprise 12% of the US population. It is disheartening to know that the young African American leaders of tomorrow are disproportionately affected by HIV with regards to new diagnoses.
HIV in Massachusetts/ Boston
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health Office of HIV/AIDS reported that as at January 1, 2017 there were 20,797 people living with HIV infection in Massachusetts. As of January 1, 2018 a total of 37,603 individuals were ever diagnosed with HIV in Massachusetts. It also reported that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has steadily increased in the past ten years from 2007 to 2016 to 23% while new diagnoses of HIV infection decreased within the same period by 16%. In Massachusetts, among recently diagnosed with HIV infection during 2014 to 2016, Male-to-Male sex (MSM) was the leading reported exposure mode accounting for 45% of the diagnosis. Injection drug use is also another leading exposure mode for HIV in Massachusetts (17%). According to the Boston EMA, Black (non-Hispanic) and Hispanic/Latino residents account for 6% and 9 % of the Boston EMA population respectively but account for 31% and 22% for a total of (53%) of people living with HIV in 2016 in Boston. The highest incidence (67% new cases) of HIV infection were among the 20 to 44 age range.
Programs at Whittier Street Health Center / Treatment
Here at Whittier Street Health Center, we have a comprehensive Infectious disease program that addresses HIV infection at every stage of the HIV continuum. We have programs that target prevention of HIV among all populations, ethnicity and all ages. Our community health workers are out in the community five days a week at various high risk locations, where we offer HIV prevention counseling, condom distribution and HIV testing, referral and linkage to comprehensive care. We also identify those who are previously diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and link them to treatment. Our Ryan White program works with those living with HIV to remain virally suppressed and stay in treatment. This is achieved by working in collaboration with a High Risk Nurse and the prescribing providers to ensure that the psychosocial needs of the patients are met so that they can concentrate on the most important aspect of their treatment, which is taking their medications. We have an Education and Outreach program that targets primarily Black MSM ages 15-29 with HIV prevention strategies. We have a team of highly skilled HIV providers that speak multiple languages, who also belong to the LGBTQ population. In addition, we have a dedicated HIV specialist who works with providers to manage HIV/AIDS patients who require more specialized care. A peer support advocate runs the peer support group for people living with HIV and AIDS to provide support to the group members. This is a mixed group that meets weekly and is comprised of both heterosexual and LGBTQ participants of many different nationalities. We recently launched a mobile van that will be used to provide HIV/HCV/STI counseling and testing services around the Boston most affected high risk areas both day and night.
What can you do to protect yourself from HIV?
* Come to the health center and get tested for HIV for free or call the hotline on 617-308-0060.
* Get free condom from us and learn how to use them the right way every time you have sex
* Never share needles.
* Choose less risky sexual behaviors
* Limit your number of sexual partners * Talk to one of our doctors about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), taking medicine daily to prevent HIV infection, if you are at very high risk for HIV * Talk to your doctor about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you think you may have been exposed to HIV within the last 3 days through sex, sharing needles and works, or a sexual assault
Additional reading 1. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/education-materials/hiv-aids-awareness-days/147/national-black-hiv-aids-awareness-day
5. Data Source: MDPH HIV/AIDS Surveillance Program (percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding), data are current as of 1/1/17 and may be subject to change.