The Fight Against HIV/AIDS…Why Sitting at the Table Matters

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    After 30 years of the HIV pandemic, one might think that terms such as “community collaboration” and “community participation” would be commonplace among those fighting the disease. But in many communities across the country, this

    @font-face { font-family: “Times New Roman”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }After 30 years of the HIV pandemic, one might think that terms such as

    “community collaboration” and “community participation” would be

    commonplace among those fighting the disease. But in many communities

    across the country, this is not the case. In fact, the clock seems to

    be rolling back to the early days, when the opinions and actions of a

    small minority marginalized the voices of those who were most impacted

    by the global pandemic.

    Make no mistake: many people are indeed living longer with HIV disease

    as a result of improved treatments. But with all of the dynamic shifts

    in HIV treatment, prevention, and policy, it is especially

    disheartening – and, we would say, dangerous – that women, Black gay

    men, people of color, heterosexual men, transgender individuals and,

    most notably, Black organizations still must fight to be heard by the

    decision makers who develop, implement, and allocate funding for

    HIV-related policies and programs.

    We all know the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.

    Blacks represent approximately 14 percent of the US population, but accounted

    for an estimated 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2009. Over the same

    period, the rate of new HIV infections among Black women was 15 times

    that of white women, and over 3 times the rate of Hispanic/Latina

    women. At some point in their lives, approximately 1 in 16 Black men

    will be diagnosed with HIV infection, many of whom will be Black gay

    men, as will 1 in 32 Black women.

    Furthermore, Latinos represented 16 percent of the population but accounted

    for 20 percent of new HIV infections in 2009. In 2009, the estimated rate of

    new HIV infections among Latinos was 2.5 times that for white men; for

    Latinas, the rate was 4.5 times that for white women.

    Black transgender women are more likely to become newly infected with

    HIV and studies have shown that infection rates for transgender women

    of all races range from 11.8 percent to 27.7 percent.

    Given these statistics, why are there not more Blacks, Latino/as, or

    transgender individuals involved in decision-making processes about

    HIV-related policies and programs? Does it even matter? We contend

    that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

    When the Philadelphia Health Department recently decided to cut much

    of its HIV/AIDS prevention programs, organizations serving people of

    color were hardest hit. As a letter to the Philadelphia Health

    Commissioner sent by the Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council indicated,

    the decision failed to appreciate the cultural capital that

    community-based organizations bring to the health milieu in order to

    create change. Had people from those communities been at the table,

    perhaps a different decision might have been reached – especially one

    without negative repercussions for those most affected.

    There are, perhaps, many reasons why this marginalization occurs, but

    the primary question remains “where are our voices?” If we, decision

    makers, communities members, elected/appointed officials,

    organizations, individuals and communities are ever going to end this

    disease we must revisit the issues of representation, inclusion and

    parity among decision makers. We must answer the question, “who is

    not at the table, and if they are at the table are their voices being

    heard and experiences being honored.”

    However, we can’t arrive at the table empty-handed. The National

    Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA), a partnership of more

    than 25 national and local organizations, recommends the following as

    part of a comprehensive strategy for reducing the transmission of

    HIV/AIDS: expanding the availability of HIV testing; implementing a

    national media outreach campaign focusing on people of color;

    directing HIV prevention and testing activities to those at highest

    risk; providing adequate funding, technical assistance, capacity

    building, and infrastructure development to Black and other

    minority-led organizations; prioritizing effective and evidence-based

    programs and interventions; and combining prevention approaches.

    As we commemorated National Black HIV/AIDS Day, we

    should remember that any significant, long-lasting progress that will

    be made towards stemming the impact of this disease is intricately

    tied to our ability to have seats at the decision-making table.

    formed to conduct a wide range of communication, mobilization, action and educational activities among communities hardest hit by HIV/AIDS.

    -Special to the NNPA from the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative


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