Troubling HIV/AIDS stats for Black women

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(NNPA)—Of all of the statistics about the disproportionate number of HIV cases in Black America, few are as perplexing as those about African-American women. Although Black women represent only 12 percent of the U.S. female population, they represent 61 percent of all new HIV infections among women—a rate nearly 15 times that of White women—and 66 percent of AIDS cases among women.

An astounding 83 percent of Black women were infected through heterosexual activity, according to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control  in Atlanta.

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A research brief issued by the National Council of Negro Women, titled, “Through Our Lens: Examining Black Women and Girls within the HIV/AIDS Crisis,” does an admirable job of trying to make sense of these vexing numbers.

Citing other studies, the research paper strongly dismisses the “largely overstated cultural myth” of Black women being more promiscuous than other women.

Why are Black women infected in such large numbers?

The report offers this explanation: “While perhaps not all-encompassing, certainly one major explanatory factor is the large sex-ratio imbalance within the African-American community.”

It continues, “There are a number of factors which contribute to the comparatively scarcity of heterosexual Black men—their over-representation among those who are victims of homicide, suicide and among those who are imprisoned, as well as their greater tendency than most demographic groups (with the exception of Asian American women) to marry outside their race.

“Together, these factors reduce the pool of African-American men available for possible relationships with African-American women. As a result, women are left to struggle with a basic supply and demand problem.”

The research paper did not address the gap between the number of Black men and women enrolled in college, creating an even greater demand for suitable male companionship on campus and later in life.

For the brothers reading this, before you burst into a grin and gleefully start rubbing your hands together, consider the impact this will have on our ability to form families and stabilize our communities. Moreover, all of us have either sisters, daughters, granddaughters, aunts, cousins or friends who will be directly affected by this imbalance. So, we can’t afford to look at this strictly from a male perspective.

According to the research paper, the need for male companionship often leads to behavior that places Black women at greater risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“As the prevalence of African-American men declines, the demand for their company increases,” the research paper observes. “As a result, the comparative overabundance of African-American women has reduced the likelihood of Black male monogamy, which in turn, increases the likelihood of concurrent relationships and the risk of transmission of the virus that causes AIDS to African-American women.

“The practice of concurrent relationships has among some, become an acceptable price to pay in the romantic lives of African-American women. So much so that the term ‘man-sharing’ has now gained currency and to some degree, acceptance within the broader community.”

Although men on the Down Low—those engaged in heterosexual relationships while secretly having sex with other men—has been blamed for the high infection rate among African-American women, the CDC said men on the DL are not the major culprits.

Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said in an interview with the NNPA News Service that Black women are far more likely to become infected by straight African-American men with multiple sex partners than Black men on the DL.

The CDC has strongly recommended that men use latex condoms when engaging in sex.

“African American women may be less likely to insist on consistent condom usage for fear of threatening the continuation of relationships—relationships that may be to some degree accurately perceived as much less easily replaceable than is the case among women of other racial or ethnic groupings,” it said. “Others may not insist on condom usage due to fear of exposure to violence. And some just simply believe they have little say at all when it comes to the issue of insisting on barrier protection.”

Black girls were said to be at greater risk than other females from other races or ethnicities because they are more likely to have relationships with older male partners. Poverty is also a factor. In addition, there are other factors such as access to health care.

The report said getting the CDC to designate Black girls and women as a priority population and the development of safe and effective microbicides for women would help lower the infection rate among African-American females.

(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, http://www.georgecurry.com.)

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