Main

October 14, 2008

Is HIV Becoming a Black Disease?

By Wynfred Russell

Blacks in some parts of the United States have HIV/AIDS rates as high as in parts of Africa, according to a report released this week.

The report: “Left Behind - Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS" is intended to raise awareness and remind the public that the "AIDS epidemic is not over in America, especially not in Black America,� says the Black AIDS Institute, an HIV/AIDS research firm focused exclusively on African Americans.

"AIDS in America today is a black disease," says Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the institute and himself HIV- positive for 20 years. "2006 CDC data tell us that about half of the just over one million Americans living with HIV/AIDS are Black."

Although Black people represent only about one in eight Americans, one in every two people living with HIV in the United States is Black, the report notes.

The report contains recently published data from the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and existing CDC and U.S. Census data to highlight some grim statistics:
• Blacks are eight times more likely to get infected than whites
• AIDS remains the leading cause of death among black women ages 25 to 34.
• It's the second-leading cause of death in black men 35-44.
• In 2006, there were 7,426 deaths of AIDS among blacks compared to 3,860 white Americans.

In Minnesota, the most recent data from the Department of Health show that Black people continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. “African American and African born men make up approximately 10% of the male population and 48% of the infections diagnosed among men in 2007. Similarly, Black women make up approximately 11% of the overall female population and 74% of the new infections among women.�

The situation is just as bleak in other cities with high Black population. For example, in Washington, DC, more than 80 percent of HIV cases are among black people, that's one in 20 residents.

Speaking to CNN on the network’s acclaimed documentary “Black in America�, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says “Five percent of the entire population (in DC) is infected... that's comparable to countries like Uganda or South Africa�

The Black AIDS Institute reports, if African Americans made up their own country, it would rank above Ethiopia (420,000 to 1,300,000) and below Ivory Coast (750,000) in HIV population. Both Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast are among the 15 nations receiving funds from President Bush’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief. The United States has given about $15 billion to qualified African nations in the past five years.

The Institute says it is not criticizing the federal government for helping African countries cope with the AIDS epidemic. Rather, it is saying the "AIDS epidemic [in the U.S.] is not getting the kind attention that it merits."
"We understand the needs of Black folks in Johannesburg (South Africa)," Wilson says. "Why can't we understand the needs of them in Jackson, Mississippi? We understand the needs in Nigeria or Botswana, why not understand the needs of Los Angeles or Oakland?"

Wilson says more needs to be done to prevent the spread of HIV in this country. The report states that the U.S. government "increased spending on HIV prevention, treatment and support programs for low-income countries dramatically, at the same time that domestic remained all but flat."

(CNN contributed to this story)

Is HIV Becoming a Black Disease?

By Wynfred Russell

Blacks in some parts of the United States have HIV/AIDS rates as high as in parts of Africa, according to a report released this week.

The report: “Left Behind - Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS" is intended to raise awareness and remind the public that the "AIDS epidemic is not over in America, especially not in Black America,� says the Black AIDS Institute, an HIV/AIDS research firm focused exclusively on African Americans.

"AIDS in America today is a black disease," says Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the institute and himself HIV- positive for 20 years. "2006 CDC data tell us that about half of the just over one million Americans living with HIV/AIDS are Black."

Although Black people represent only about one in eight Americans, one in every two people living with HIV in the United States is Black, the report notes.

The report contains recently published data from the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and existing CDC and U.S. Census data to highlight some grim statistics:
• Blacks are eight times more likely to get infected than whites
• AIDS remains the leading cause of death among black women between ages 25 and 34.
• It's the second-leading cause of death in black men 35-44.
• In 2006, there were 7,426 deaths of AIDS among blacks compared to 3,860 white Americans.

In Minnesota, the most recent data from the Department of Health show that Black people continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. “African American and African born men make up approximately 10% of the male population and 48% of the infections diagnosed among men in 2007. Similarly, Black women make up approximately 11% of the overall female population and 74% of the new infections among women.�

The situation is just as bleak in other cities with high Black population. For example, in Washington, DC, more than 80 percent of HIV cases are among black people, that's one in 20 residents.

Speaking to CNN on the network’s acclaimed documentary “Black in America�, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says “Five percent of the entire population (in DC) is infected... that's comparable to countries like Uganda or South Africa�

The Black AIDS Institute reports, if African Americans made up their own country, it would rank above Ethiopia (420,000 to 1,300,000) and below Ivory Coast (750,000) in HIV population. Both Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast are among the 15 nations receiving funds from President Bush’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief. The United States has given about $15 billion to qualified African nations in the past five years.

The Institute says it is not criticizing the federal government for helping African countries cope with the AIDS epidemic. Rather, it is saying the "AIDS epidemic [in the U.S.] is not getting the kind attention that it merits."
"We understand the needs of Black folks in Johannesburg (South Africa)," Wilson says. "Why can't we understand the needs of them in Jackson, Mississippi? We understand the needs in Nigeria or Botswana, why not understand the needs of Los Angeles or Oakland?"

Wilson says more needs to be done to prevent the spread of HIV in this country. The report states that the U.S. government "increased spending on HIV prevention, treatment and support programs for low-income countries dramatically, at the same time that domestic remained all but flat."

(CNN contributed to this story)

About Me

Wynfred Nathaniel Russell is an educator, a community health activist, and a communications consultant. He was born in Upper Caldwell, Montserrado County to the parents of James Nathaniel and Georgia Carr Russell. His formative years were spent in Nimba County, where he attended the Ganta United Methodist High School.

He was a sophomore at the University of Liberia when he fled like most Liberians due to the raging civil war. He settled in the Ivory Coast and enrolled at the University of Abidjan for a year before receiving a full academic scholarship to study in the United States. Wynfred holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast communications and journalism, and a master’s degree in public affairs and political science from Northern Michigan University, and a graduate certificate in Global Studies/Third World Studies from North Carolina State University. He served as a student council representative and general manager of the university-run radio station – WUPX 89.9. He has since emerged as one of the most promising young Africans within the State of Minnesota.

Wynfred was recruited by the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities as Coordinator of Graduate Studies, where he managed its esteemed doctoral program in economics, which has produced two Nobel Prize laureates. After one year in that position, the Department of African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota hired him as an adjunct instructor.

He also managed the department’s community outreach programs and served as a faculty advisor to the African Student Association (ASA) and the Liberian Student Association (LiSA). As part of the university’s “resident expert on West Africa,� Wynfred has made numerous media appearances on MPR, NPR, CNN, CBS Radio, Radio Jamaica, WCCO - TV, and KARE 11. He has written articles for the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder and been a guest columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Mshale newspapers. In addition he has been interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times Magazine, the Chronicles of Higher Education, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Detroit Free Press.

Wynfred served as the representative for African Immigrant Community on the City of Brooklyn Park Stable Neighborhood Action Planning (SNAP) task force. He served a two-year term as an appointee of the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health on its Community Cooperative Council for HIV/AIDS Prevention (CCCHAP), which allocates HIV prevention money throughout the state of Minnesota.

Project Lifeline, which Wynfred founded and coordinates, hosted a professional development workshop for Liberian religious leaders to increase their skills in HIV/AIDS intervention in 2005. He has visited and spoken at nearly every church in the Twin Cities, where Liberians worship to bring the HIV/AIDS awareness message, including hosting sporting events to increase youth awareness around HIV/AIDS.

He organized a leadership workshop for OLM and ULAA in 2006. He has interfaced with the Medical School at the University of Minnesota to host series of health related projects for the Liberian community, including a health audit and health fair.

Two months ago, Wynfred facilitated two workshops for the American Refugee Committee (ARC) in Monrovia and Gbarnga for its Liberian and expatriate staff. His work was lauded in a commendation letter from ARC’s CEO and President as outstanding!