While HIV/AIDS has often been considered a “gay disease,” a new federal study reveals different results. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 2.1 percent of heterosexuals in high-poverty communities are HIV-positive, double the national average.
A “high-poverty” community is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as having at least 20 percent living below the poverty line. The study found that within high-poverty communities, those below the poverty line were more likely to be HIV-positive than those above.
The rate of 2.1 qualifies as an epidemic. The United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) defines a generalized epidemic as having a rate of over 1 percent in a given population, firmly establishing itself. This makes the CDC study’s rate as acute as rates in developing countries such as Haiti (2.2 percent), Angola (2.1 percent) and Burundi (2 percent).
CDC offers a number of factors that contribute to the 2.1 percent rate including:
limited health care access, which can reduce utilization of HIV testing and prevention services; substance abuse, which can increase sexual risk behavior; and high rates of incarceration, which can disrupt the stability of relationships.
Other factors may include lack of education regarding sexual health as well as the stigma placed on those infected with HIV/AIDS.
Alhough CDC notes that in the U.S. in general the rate for blacks is eight times the rate for whites, it claims that race/ethnicity made no difference in HIV prevalence in high-poverty areas. However the organization overlooks the fact that blacks make up the majority of residents in high-poverty communities. In this study, 77 percent of the participants were black, 15 percent were Hispanic (presumably non-black and non-white), 4 percent were white and another 3 percent were other races.
CEO and Founder of the Black AIDS Institute Phill Wilson believes that to understand the link between race and HIV/AIDS, the study needs to go further and ask questions such as
What are the differences in HIV rates in poor urban communities which are overwhelmingly Black, and poor white rural communities? How do middle class and wealthy Blacks fare compared to middle class and wealthy whites?
CDC will present its findings in the XVIII International AIDS conference (AIDS 2010) in Vienna, currently taking place. Currently 1.1 million Americans are HIV-positive, and over 56,000 become infected every year.