Hiv/Aids Among Young African Americans

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There is health crisis among young African Americans, and prudishness, politics, and lack of focused resources is damaging our ability to respond. The salient facts are these: one in four new HIV infections in the United States occur in people under the age of 22. AIDS is already the sixth leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1996) and the leading cause of death among 25 to 44 year olds. In the 12 month period preceding July, 1996, two thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven people aged 13 to 24 were diagnosed with AIDS. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control warns that, ¡§while the rate of new AIDS cases reported among people born before 1960 appears to be reaching a plateau, the rate among younger Americans continues to escalate¡¨(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1995). And AIDS threatens to become endemic among particularly vulnerable young African Americans. Young people of color, gay, youth, and young women who have sex with HIV positive men are at the center of this expanding epidemic. The National Academy of Sciences has reported that the United States has the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases of any developed country and that, ¡§an effective national system for STD prevention currently does not exist¡¨ (Institute of Medicine, 1996). There are obvious reasons why government has fallen short in its responsibility to fight the epidemic in the African American community: funding is limited and political salvos from right and left stifle development of innovative programs. Community-based organizations have made valiant efforts to reach young African Americans with effective prevention messages, but they, too, have been hampered by inadequate funding and other constraints. Much expertise needed to reach young people with powerful and effective messages is vested in the private sector, but we have failed to form large scales, sustained, public-private alliances to fight HIV. There are numerous examples of innovative and effective HIV prevention programs for young people at the local level. But the sum is less than the parts-as a nation, we are failing to reach too many young African Americans at high risk for HIV (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1995). Social vulnerability, the need to gain love and respect through sex, and power differentials within relationships are particularly important risk factors in the subgroups of young African Americans most affected by the epidemic, young gay men, and sexually active women. These vulnerability factors should more closely inform HIV prevention efforts. A lot of the young African Americans have personal needs and desires that can make them particularly vulnerable, but some factors are more relevant for those at high risk for HIV. To a large extent, these risk factors are a product of the marginalization of these groups in the larger society (Rosenberg, 1994). Socially based vulnerability, including homophobia, sexism, poverty, and homelessness are all factors in young African Americans contracting HIV, The need to find acceptance, respect and love through sex, the discovery phase of sex, gay and straight, power dynamics with older partners, coercion and force and difficulty in communicating needs as well as sex work play an important role in teens contracting the virus also. All stated are contributing factors that need immediate attention to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among our young African Americans (Sugerman, 1991). The statistics suggest the urgent need to implement HIV prevention interventions targeting young women in order to prevent future infections and increase risk reduction behaviors. However, the paucity of culturally relevant HIV prevention interventions targeting African Americans is evident. The CDC recognizes two interventions as effective that target this population in its Compendium of Effective Interventions. Other interventions in...
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