2021 National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Dismantling Racism in order to End the HIV Epidemic

Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and this year it is imperative that we highlight the importance of dismantling racism in order to end the HIV epidemic. America’s long-standing history of systemic racism contributes to the disproportionate impact HIV has on Black communities. Combatting racism must be brought to the forefront and made a priority in every public health response to ending the HIV epidemic.

Structural racism and systemic health inequity within the public health infrastructure has become even more evident over the last 10 months as the nation navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies show that confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths are disproportionately higher in communities with larger Black populations. Nationwide, Black people have died from COVID-19 at 1.5 times the rate of white people. Many public health officials have drawn similarities between COVID-19 and HIV and how they have impacted Black communities. According to the CDC, Black people are also disproportionately impacted by HIV and account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses compared to other races and ethnicities. In 2018, Black people accounted for 42% of all new HIV diagnoses in the U.S, but only made up 13% of the U.S. population. Racism continues to put Black communities at increased risk of getting sick and dying from diseases and viruses. It is therefore imperative that we combat it in order to achieve optimal health outcomes for Black communities.

There are a variety of ways to combat racism within the public health and medical fields. One of the first steps is to eliminate discrimination and stigma. Discrimination and stigma are products of racism that significantly contribute to Black people’s vulnerability to HIV and hinder their access to quality HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. According to the New York Times, Black communities experience discrimination and stigma from medical and health care providers which result in Black patients receiving less care and worse care compared to white patients. CDC studies show that the fear of being discriminated against and stigmatized influences whether Black people seek or receive HIV prevention or care services. Resources, such as NASTAD’s Talking Points the Resource Guide for Facilitating Stigma Conversations, are needed in order to fight racism and remove discrimination and stigma in medicine and public health. This toolkit addresses how to eradicate stigmatization and discrimination in order to create healthy and helpful environments that individuals can rely on for HIV services.

Another product of racism that allows Black communities to be more susceptible to HIV is the wealth and income gap between Black communities and other racial and ethnic groups. This gap hinders Black communities from accessing high-quality health care, housing, and HIV services. The CDC states that the inability to access these factors directly and indirectly increases Black people’s vulnerability to HIV and contribute to their worse outcomes on the HIV care continuum. It is essential that health departments in communities with large Black populations work in partnership with members with members of the community to create programs and interventions that provide affordable, quality health services to its community members and work to address unstable housing for the unhoused.

In order to address racist infrastructures, programs and initiatives that address racism must be included in every strategic HIV plan. Without question, racism has created a barrier between Black communities and trusted, quality HIV prevention and care services. The time is now to work concertedly to demolish this barrier and build a bridge.