This post was originally published on New York Amsterdam News
By Ariama C. Long
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day continues to highlight the threat of HIV/AIDS among disproportionately impacted Black people, despite significant advances in medical treatments. Councilmember Pierina Sanchez and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams are spearheading a bill to increase rapid HIV testing and prevention in neighborhoods with the highest rates.
Sanchez, Williams, and other elected officials were joined at City Hall this Tuesday by a host of advocates backing the bill, Int 895. The bill would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to ramp up rapid testing for sexually transmitted infections in all boroughs, prioritizing communities in boroughs that have higher infection rates.
Williams said that consistent and persistent testing proved key to beating back the COVID-19 pandemic and essential to community health.
“Very often when we hear people talking that the crisis is over, they’re talking about very specific demographics. And when you dig down deeper, for the people who are suffering the most, the crisis rages on. That is the case with HIV and AIDS,” said Williams at the press conference. “The Black and immigrant community in particular. The crisis is not over.”
C. Virginia Fields, president and CEO at National Black Leadership Commission on Black Health, said that one of their main demands is for the government and pharmaceutical companies to keep the “same consistency, determination, and energy” for the HIV/AIDS crisis as they had churning out vaccines for the COVID-19 crisis.
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day began in 1999 as a grassroots education effort during the height of the epidemic. Nowadays, with advanced medications like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and antivirals, an HIV/AIDS diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. There is still no vaccine available though.
Inequities in HIV and STI testing as well as access to treatment continue to persist along racial, ethnic, economic, gender, and sexual identity lines, said Sanchez. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), statistics from 2020 show there were 18,489 deaths among adults and adolescents with diagnosed HIV in the U.S. The same year, the highest number of new diagnoses were identified as Black Americans at 12,827.
Across New York State, the Black community is statistically most impacted as well. “The Bronx suffers from the highest rates of HIV across New York State’s 62 counties, and sexually transmitted infection rates are at unacceptably high rates among vulnerable groups in our city,” said Sanchez. “By making rapid testing services available throughout the City and educating New Yorkers, this bill will work to reduce infection rates and save lives. It is time to ensure everyone has access to the services they need.”
The Bronx has over 23,500 people living with HIV, said Sanchez, more than three times higher than the overall New York State rate and highest in New York City. These rates are highest among Black Bronxites. In 2021, the Bronx also had the highest rates of HIV/AIDS deaths, said Sanchez.
Community districts in the Bronx face the highest rate of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis, even though overall rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia have decreased citywide, added Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson in a statement.
“Healthcare is a human right, but not for marginalized communities that don’t have access to basic healthcare testing such as for HIV,” said Councilmember Lynn Schulman, chair of the Health Committee. “As someone who worked for the leading HIV/AIDS organization in the country, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, I know how much testing clinics and other HIV/AIDS services are needed, especially in Black and brown communities.”
Caribbean Equality Project (CEP) Executive Director Mohamed Q. Amin noted that LGBTQIA+ Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean communities that intersect with HIV/AIDS communities also face stigma and harsh inequities. “Immigration status, socioeconomic background, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex should not be barriers to accessing health services in New York City,” said Amin.
These demographics are largely located in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park in Queens, Flatbush, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, and Castle Hill and Soundview in The Bronx. Amin said that LGBTQ+ immigrants from the Caribbean need specialized assistance navigating resources, including HIV and STI testing and care.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1
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