We’re in This Together: 2020 National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

The 21st annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was celebrated on February 7, 2020. This year’s theme, “We’re in This Together,” highlighted the importance of social support in order to end the HIV epidemic within Black communities. Black communities in America have been historically neglected and oppressed for centuries due to prejudice and discrimination that derives from systemic racism. They are also among the communities that are most impacted by HIV. As we work towards ending the HIV epidemic, we must ensure that the Black community is not treated as a monolithic entity. Within the Black community, there are significant differences among the strategies needed to best serve Black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBM); Black transwomen; Black cisgender women (particularly in the South); foreign-born Black communities; and those co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C virus.

Therefore, Black communities that represent a breadth of experiences and identities should be intentionally included in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of HIV prevention, care, and treatment plans and programs. The time is now to show unwavering support towards these communities and diligently provide them access to resources that will prevent and treat HIV. Support from health departments is essential in ending the HIV epidemics in Black communities. We cannot end the HIV epidemic if these institutions do not prioritize and support Black lives.

There are countless local and state health departments across the country that are planning and implementing Ending the HIV Epidemic (EtHE) plans. These plans strategically map out how to effectively reduce and eliminate new HIV infections and ways to link people living with HIV (PLWH) to care and treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, Black people were among 42% of all new HIV diagnoses. In order to end the HIV epidemic within Black communities, it is imperative that health departments support Black communities by representing them in their EtHE plans.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) is an example of a health department that centers and acknowledges Black lives in the fight against HIV. In 2017, the GDPH required all staff to enroll in His Health, an online resource that aimed to raise the standard of care for Black GBM. The Fulton County, GA health department also created an EtHE plan that is dedicated to social justice and acknowledges Fulton County, GA’s legacy as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. To view more examples of health departments that create plans and programs that support and prioritize Black lives visit NASTAD’s EtHE and Success Stories maps.

Health departments must also support Black communities by working to eliminate stigma in public and political infrastructures, including health systems. According to Avert, roughly one in eight people living with HIV is being denied health services because of stigma and discrimination. We must end stigma in order to link Black patients living with HIV to care and treatment. NASTAD’s Talking Points: The Resource Guide for Facilitating Stigma Conversations provides tips on how to address and eliminate stigma by incorporating an intersectional lens that is inclusive of the myriad identities and social affiliations of diverse communities, such as Black individuals living with HIV. Health department staff should prioritize planning and implementing Stigma Summits that explore innovative ways to address stigma, implicit bias, intersectionality, and race. Last year, NASTAD’s 2019 National Summit on HIV Stigma addressed these topics and provided health department staff with tools they could take back and include in their work.

Collective support from health departments is what is needed in order to end HIV in Black communities. Let us continue this theme of “We’re in This Together” throughout the rest of the month, year, and decades to come as we fight, together, to end the HIV epidemics.