Never Forget

Shavon L. Arline-Bradley, National Health Director

To celebrate World AIDS Day we are reminded that 30 years ago the United States was astonished when white gay males began dying from this unknown disease. The first case of HIV was discovered on June 5, 1981. In those days the American public and medical community was stunned by the way this disease ravaged the human body. Photographs and TV images of bodies deteriorating at a rapid pace with no known cause or cure flooded the media in the early 80s. People were literally put in isolation and left to die. The one common denominator was being White, male and homosexual; or so we thought.

Fast-forward to December 1, 2011 and you will find a vastly different story. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 32 black women and 1 in 16 black men will be infected with HIV in their lifetime.  Even though African Americans make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for almost half (44 percent) of all new HIV infections in the nation every year. African Americans represent 51 percent of the 42,655 new HIV/AIDS diagnoses and 48 percent of the 551,932 persons, including children, living with HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women ages 25-34 and the second leading cause of death among black men ages 35-44 years.

On this 23rd annual World AIDS Day, the real question is have you forgotten about HIV? The HIV epidemic has been a constant thread in the American fabric for 30 years. In the last 20 years the African-American community has taken the brunt of the disease on their shoulders. The NAACP has made it our priority to shine a spotlight on what have become the most common faces of the Forgotten Epidemic:  black Americans of all ages.  Black women make up nearly 60 percent of all infections among women each year.  Young black gay and bisexual men -- have experienced astronomical increases in HIV infections – a rise of 48 percent in just three years. It seems the black community has forgotten and the question is WHY?

It is easy to dismiss HIV when we no longer see those images of frail bodies on the television and witness the incredible quality of life for NBA star Magic Johnson who was diagnosed in 1991. Many still say that won't happen to me and it affects only “those people".  Those people are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. In a time where stigma and discrimination still exists, we cannot forget. In a time where our community still has limited access to healthcare, we cannot afford to forget.  In a time, when people are still having unprotected sex, we cannot forget. 

The NAACP and our leadership have committed to ensuring the forgotten epidemic will not leave our minds so easily. We will continue to work with our local chapters and encourage to empower themselves. Knowing your status, getting regular screenings, changing health policy and speaking out against discrimination and stigma are key elements to fighting this disease. So I ask you today are you going to forget? I know I won’t. The future of the Black community is at stake. Never forget.