This sixth segment, with a focus on HIV/AIDS, is part of an eight-part series on health disparities in the Pittsburgh region. These segments are the result of a collaboration among the New Pittsburgh Courier, Community PARTners within the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI; http://www.ctsi.pitt.edu) and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Pitt School of Medicine Assistant Professor Michael Yonas, DrPH, sat down with Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, to discuss this month’s focus on HIV/AIDS among African Americans in Allegheny County.
MY: Thank you, Ms. Bush, for your leadership with these Take Charge of Your Health segments and for talking with me about this month’s topic of HIV/AIDS.
EB: We have to talk more about HIV/AIDS, and it’s important that we get this information out to the public and our communities. The disproportionate number of African Americans infected with HIV/AIDS in the United States is frightening. Through research, so much has been learned and people need to know that being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. I believe we can make a difference in HIV/AIDS disparities if we provide our communities with accurate information through research, tools for prevention and access to resources.
MY: Do you feel that residents of Allegheny County realize that, within the United States, African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS than others?
EB: Lack of awareness of HIV status is causing the disease to spread among our communities. Unfortunately, we are seeing similar statistics in Allegheny County, and I don’t think people realize that. The tools to help us get a handle on this epidemic are out there. I know we can make serious headway. As Dr. McMahon stated, “African Americans represent roughly 13 percent of the county population but over 35 percent of county residents living with HIV/AIDS.”
MY: What are some things we can do?
EB: Although everyone should get tested and know their HIV status, it is especially important for young adults ages 13-29 and women, groups in which the HIV/AIDS infection rate is increasing. Getting tested and knowing your status is so important to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. If you test positive, seek medical care. Second, we have to move beyond the fear, denial and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. There are many groups here in Allegheny County to help us, such as the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) and Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health Pennsylvania Prevention Project, with information, resources and support. I really like this quote from Coretta Scott King, “It is time for all of us to take action to protect ourselves and our young people against HIV/AIDS. We must educate our children about HIV prevention. They need to know that it is OK to talk about AIDS, because illness, like injustice and inequality, cannot be eliminated by remaining silent.”