HIV's Rapid Rise and the Decline of African American Men
In August of 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that detailed the rise and rapid rate of escalation of HIV among young, African American males. Young men between the ages of 13 and 29 are fast becoming the most infected class in the nation. Contributing greatly to the rise, according to the CDC, is young men having sex with other men. Their mates are most often older men…significantly older men who are the most likely group to already be infected with HIV.
This is a nationwide epidemic, one that is being chronicled in cities from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. Cities in between like Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee, Wisconsin where Brain Brawn & Body is situated, all share this horrifying existence coupled with a sense of severe bewilderment.
“What to do?” is the question asked by health care professionals and social scientists who are dealing with this everyday. Being labeled “gay” is still a social stigma many Black men don’t want to get stuck with.
Testing is taboo. Getting those most “at-risk” to self identify or be identified by professionals is an arduous task. Even more difficult is getting those who are infected to stay on a prescribed treatment regimen.
The spread of the disease among this population is devastating Black communities. In response to the devastation which was beginning to mount in the late 1980’s, churches began to open their doors to those infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. In 1989, the Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS led a nationwide effort among churches to address the problem of AIDS in the Black community.
Jim Addison, a minister and the coordinator of the HIV/AIDS Program for the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin said, “This year more than 10,000 churches across the United States used the power of the Black pulpit to educate their communities about HIV/AIDS and to heal hearts and minds of denial, silence and stigma that continue to block effective interventions for the prevention, treatment and testing of HIV in the Black community.”
In Milwaukee, a 6-point plan was presented during the Week of the Black Church, March 3-9:
Care and support the sick
Churches are commanded to care by God. It is their calling and love leaves no choice. It doesn’t take any special training to love. Local congregations are the only caring organization found in almost every community around the world.
Handle testing and counseling
Everyone should know their HIV status. The CDC has recently recommended that everyone between thirteen and sixty-four receive a routine HIV test. There are two reasons to know your HIV status: if you’re negative, stay negative! If you’re positive, you can access care and treatment and avoid transmitting the virus to others.
Unleash a volunteer labor force
There will never be enough health professionals in the world to teach prevention, administer treatment, and offer care to those who need it. Churches have the largest volunteer labor force on the planet – more than 2 billion members. Imagine the difference in our world if this enormous pool of untapped talent, energy and compassion could be mobilized in the fight in support of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS!
Remove the stigma
Churches must embrace people who are HIV positive by replacing rejection and alienation with mercy and acceptance. It is not a sin to be sick. The question should not be “How did you get infected?” but “How can we help you?”
Champion healthy behavior
HIV/AIDS is complex and yet largely preventable. Churches have the moral authority to promote healthy sexual behavior and to offer the spiritual motivation for abstinence, fidelity and drug-free living. Behavior change does not happen by will power or even accountability of partners alone. Churches can offer a holistic approach that encompasses all aspects of prevention and recovery
Help with nutrition and medications
While it is unexpected to visualize a role for local churches in helping with HIV treatment, the church can be an integral part of helping HIV positive individuals live longer. HIV treatment offers hope for a normal lifespan but requires specialized pre-treatment preparation and treatment support that the faith community can provide.
With these and other work being done to address the issue of AIDS/HIV in the Black community maybe we will see a decline in the numbers of young men infected by the AIDS virus. “We have to see a change and we have to see it soon. Our survival depends on it,” says Addison.