Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day! With the COVID pandemic foremost on the minds of many, HIV/ AIDS seems like a distant problem. A POZ Poll asked its readers, “Are you participating in any World AIDS Day 2022 events? On 11/28, when I responded to the poll questions, the results were 20 percent said “yes,” 20 percent said “I don’t know,” and 60 percent said “no.”

In 1988, the World Health Organization designated the day to pause and reflect on the magnitude of the devastating effect this disease continues to have on domestic and global communities. Much of the focus still is on developing countries. However, African Americans are still disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic. And the epidemic is heavily concentrated in urban enclaves like Boston, Detroit, New York, Newark, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South.

In February, on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day 2022, “POZ” reported that according to AIDSVu.org, African Americans in 2019 made up 43 percent of new HIV cases and comprised roughly 12- 13 percent of the U.S. population. This means that African Americans were 8.4 times more likely to contract the HIV infection compared to whites, according to The Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Massachusetts is a world-renowned medical hub known for its HIV/AIDS research and support systems, but the outcomes are equally grim. In 2019, according to a UMass Chan Medical School report titled “Burden of HIV & AIDS amongst the Black Community in Massachusetts….” African Americans comprise 7.3 percent of the population but represent 32 percent of people newly diagnosed with HIV. This means that the rate of African American males living with HIV is 5.2 times of Whites males, and the rate of African American females living with HIV is 22.7 times that of white females. African Americans who contract HIV are more likely to die from it than members of other racial groups.

But this data doesn’t reflect the wave of recent African diasporic immigrants of the last decade coming from the Caribbean Islands and the Motherland. This demographic group is overwhelmingly under reported and under served for fear, not only of deportation but also of homophobic insults and assaults from their communities.

In 2022, why is HIV/AIDS still an overwhelmingly Black disease in the United States?

There are many persistent social and economic determinants contributing to the high rates of the epidemic in the African American community - poverty, homelessness, health care disparity, industrial prison complex, and violence, to name a few. And while we know that the epidemic moves along the fault lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation, homophobia, stigma, and the Black Church continue to be barriers to ending the AIDS epidemic. However, the most significant obstacle is systemic racism.

I would not expect anything other than the data quoted. No matter what is being measured in America, you already know who will fare worse. Systems in America are designed to have this outcome,” said Dr. Thea James of Boston Medical Center, my spouse.

In 2021, The CDC declared racism a serious public health threat in its impact on health outcomes. World Aids Day 2021, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (2022–2025) was released, bringing shockwaves to people of color with its goal to center people living with HIV and address racism.

The Strategy recognizes racism as a public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” the strategy states. “Over generations, these structural inequities have resulted in racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable.”

The UNAIDS 2022 theme is “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.”

I hope the POZ Poll is incorrect and that many will participate in a World Aids Day event. But I feel assured that no matter who does or doesn’t participate on that day, Black Lives living with HIV/AIDS are beginning to matter.

We can end AIDS – if we end the inequalities which perpetuate it. This World AIDS Day, we need everyone to get involved in sharing the message that we will all benefit when we tackle inequalities,” says UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. “To keep everyone safe, to protect everyone’s health, we need to Equalize.”

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister, motivational speaker and she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly Friday segment “The Take” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the U.K, and Canada. Also she writes a column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows and Cambridge Chronicle. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rev. Monroe graduated from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church in New Jersey before coming to Harvard Divinity School to do her doctorate. She has received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while being the head teaching fellow of the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is the author of the best seller, THE GOOD BOOK. She appears in the film For the Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s coming out story is profiled in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America" and in "Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston Magazine cited her as one of Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled twice in the Boston Globe, In the Living Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College's research library on the history of women in America. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC.

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