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Blacks silent as HIV/AIDS attack through their communities
  By WARREN BOLTON - Associate Editor
YOU'D THINK that HIV/AIDS would be less of a problem than it was in the years following the first diagnosis about 25 years ago.
After all, we know more about HIV and the disease it causes than we ever have, and treatment is as good as it's ever been.
Yet black South Carolinians are being infected at an alarming rate, with no end in sight, and many aren't getting needed treatment. If black people - whether affluent or poor, gay or straight, urban or rural, educated or undereducated - don't get real about combating the disease, an already terrible crisis will worsen.
Bambi Sumpter-Gaddist, executive director of the S.C. HIV/AIDS Council, reveals the gravity of the matter in a chapter in the Columbia Urban League's "State of Black South Carolina."
"Poor education, racism, poverty and just plain ignorance, among other things play a role in the increasing HIV/AIDS crisis. South Carolina's African-American population must stop ignoring the HIV-AIDS crisis and begin addressing it head on," Dr. Sumpter-Gaddist writes.
While there's a dire need for more government funding for treatment and education, all citizens, black people particularly, must take responsibility for themselves and help battle this public health crisis, which affects all races, socio-economic groups and genders. South Carolina consistently ranks in the top 10 nationally in AIDS cases.
Dr. Sumpter-Gaddist is emphatic about the need for people to get tested, educate themselves and their children about HIV/AIDS and speak out instead of being mum as this silent killer creeps through the black community. The fact that many still attach this disease to the gay lifestyle, which many in the black community don't support, plays a big part in preventing open, honest discussion and head-on treatment of the disease, she contends.
The truth is that the disease is moving as fast through heterosexual relationships as it is through homosexual encounters. People must change their risky behaviors. HIV/AIDS can be prevented. Anyone ever heard of abstinence, for example?
As she tells the story of HIV/AIDS in South Carolina, Dr. Sumpter-Gaddist unloads a heavy dose of reality using startling statistics and facts. · African-Americans make up 32 percent of South Carolina's population, but 73 percent of those in the state living with HIV/AIDS. "In other words, three of every 10 South Carolinians is African-American, but when it comes to HIV/AIDS cases, seven of every 10 South Carolinians infected is African-American." · While new HIV diagnoses among blacks declined by 5 percent per year between 2001 and 2004, non-Hispanic black men and women accounted for nearly half - 47 percent - of all AIDS cases, even though blacks make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. "Blacks have surpassed all other racial groups in the proportion of AIDS cases since 1995."
· Deaths due to AIDS remain the second-leading cause of death for African-Americans ages 25-44. The majority of new AIDS cases are black men 25 and older.
· In 2004, black men made up only 15 percent of our state's population, but 47 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS. In 2002-03, 48 percent were diagnosed with HIV only. Black women represent the second-largest proportion in each category: 26 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS and 29 percent of those with HIV only.
· "As of December 31, 2005, an estimated 83% of HIV/AIDS infections among South Carolina women occurred among Black women. This compares to 15% among white women."
· "More than eight of every 10 babies/children who are infected with HIV from their mothers are African-American."
The reason for the high rate of HIV/AIDS among black South Carolinians is complex, Dr. Sumpter-Gaddist writes. "Some experts believe it is a combination of poverty and racism, which impact equal access to health care."
"There is also evidence that suggests we contribute to the spread of the epidemic by failing to (a) take charge of the epidemic and promote education and awareness within our home, church, and social circle; (b) change risky behaviors that perpetuate the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections from one person to another; and (c) create a political agenda designed to promote commitment among city, county, and state leaders so as to address the lack of state resources for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care."
While African-Americans are the most likely to contract HIV/AIDS, they're least likely to get necessary help, testing, education and treatment. They're less likely to be on HIV/AIDS Antiretroviral Therapy, although it's been available for more than a decade. Slightly more than one in five African-Americans with HIV has no medical coverage. African-Americans are being diagnosed with HIV too late. One-third of African-Americans have never been tested for HIV. African-Americans are more likely to put off medical care.
Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS continues to infect and claim new victims. We call it a silent killer. But it's not sneaking up on anyone; we know it's out there. The more accurate characterization would be to say that it kills in silence - the silence of the church, families, friends, communities. It's time we all spoke up and put this disease on the run.
Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or
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