By: Serena Brahney – Senior Producer, 'Larry King Now'
According to a new, first-of-its-kind study, about half of all gay black men and a quarter of gay Latino men in the United States will contract HIV in their lifetime, if current diagnosis rates continue.
The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represents the first-ever projections of lifetime risk of HIV infection in the US, underscoring the deeply disproportionate rates of infection between ethnic groups, and each sex. White women and men have a lifetime HIV risk of 1 in 880 and 1 in 132, respectively. African-Americans, by stark contrast, have a lifetime risk of 1 in 48 for women and 1 in 20 for men.
The findings come at a time when public interest in HIV/AIDS flounders. In 1987, 68% of Americans named HIV/AIDS as the most urgent health problem facing the nation. In 2012, it was just 10%.
That may be because, thanks to advances in treatment, HIV has become a survivable condition. And the overall lifetime risk of HIV diagnosis in the US is relatively low – 1 in 99 people (it was 1 in 78 about a decade ago).
But this is far from the case for gay and/or bisexual men, 1 in 6 of whom will be infected with HIV in their lifetime if diagnosis rates don’t shift. And the rates are higher yet for gay men who are black or Latino.
Why the startling discrepancies? In a 2015 episode of 'Larry King Now' about the state of HIV/AIDS in America, 'Plus' editor-in-chief and 'The Advocate' editor-at-large Diane Anderson-Minshall explained why black men, in particular, are more prone to become infected. As she cautions, it isn’t because they’re more promiscuous or sexually risky. It has to do with the size of their sexual networks.
Stigma among certain communities also plays a role, as it can deter people from getting tested or treated.
“I would say the stigma has grown in a lot of respects. With lack of educating and a lack of a general understanding that this is a part of our daily dialogue – whether it’s in school in sex education or the information we’re putting into the news – the history of this issue is a fear-based stigma. People have been afraid of HIV and AIDS and it’s been stigmatized in a lot of different ways, from intravenous drug users to the homosexual community. And at the end of the day, I don’t think that fear has gone away,” Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation Spokesman Jake Glaser told Larry. Glaser himself is an HIV-positive adult who contracted the virus from his mother in utero.
“The LGBT community, particularly the transgender community, injecting drug users – these are populations that I think HIV has added to the stigma that they’ve been experiencing,” Christopher Brown, Director of Health & Mental Services for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, told King during the interview.
“Then you add color to that, then you add things like poverty to that, then you add lack to that – lack of education, lack of access,” said actor and HIV/AIDS activist Sheryl Lee Ralph. “It makes it even worse.”
“The number one reason that most people do not tell people that they have HIV is because they do not know it,” Ralph, whose work includes encouraging African Americans to get tested for the virus, continued. “And as long as they do not know it, it keeps the disease out there with its strong ability to spread.”
These issues are compounded by the fact that while Americans benefit from easy access to HIV drugs relative to elsewhere in the world, the cost of treatment can be prohibitively high.
“They’re not affordable…I’d say there’s probably better access [to HIV antiretroviral drugs] in the United States [than in Africa], but the cost is extremely high. Extremely high,” said Glaser.
That said, Dr. Judith Currier – Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Clinical AIDS Research and Education, or CARE – reminded the panel that HIV need not ever become AIDS, if treated correctly.
“It could be zero percent if people went on treatment,” said Currier when asked by Larry what percentage of people with HIV get AIDS. “We have the tools to end AIDS. Not just in America, but around the world.”
HIV/AIDS may have all but disappeared from the public conversation, but it hasn’t disappeared from our communities. And the sickening feeling I can’t escape is this: if a study concluded half of straight white men would get HIV over their lifetime, do you have any doubt that the issue would race to the top of agendas? Why are black and Latino men and women more expendable?
It’s time that we as a society stop regarding HIV/AIDS as a resolved epidemic and redouble our efforts to mitigate the infection rate for all Americans – not just those who resemble our politicians and celebrities.
Watch the full 'Larry King Now' discussion about the state of HIV/AIDS in America below, and tell us what you think in the comment section. Is enough attention being paid to the issue? Do you think about it? What health problem feels most pressing to you?
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.