The NAACP, along with Harvard University’s Center for AIDS Research, recently hosted a summit in the nation’s capital aimed at maintaining attention on the HIV/AIDS scourge in the African-American community, along with pressing lawmakers to enhance HIV/AIDS policy efforts.
The summit, “Forgotten Epidemic: Our Collective Response, Responsibility & Solution to the Black AIDS Crisis in Black America,” spanned two days and included panels on HIV/AIDS research and policy and discussion about barriers to prevention and treatment in the African-American community.
“It’s no longer sort of the ‘it’ disease. People are weary; people are tired of talking about HIV. We’ve been through this for 30 years. While there’s some who want to tire and say let’s move on to the next one. We can’t move on. And we can’t move on because we still have people dying. Yes, the pharmaceutical industry has come out with drugs that help people to sustain their lives but that’s not enough. We have got to stop the spread,” said Karen Boykin-Towns, NAACP Brooklyn Branch President and Chair of the NAACP’s National Health Committee, to a crowd of attendees on the first day of the summit.
“This is an issue for many of us. 41 percent of Black people in this country know somebody who has the virus. For many of us this is very close to our hearts,” said NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous. “The association is no different. We’re committed to being a powerful voice … We’re committed to pushing the conversation even further at the church level and the community level.”
According to the NAACP, the summit followed a similar event held in Boston in 2010 and took on special meaning, coinciding with “the 30th anniversary commemoration of HIV/AIDS in the United States.”
While the disease was first found in the White gay community in the United States, recent statistics from Harvard University’s Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) relate that Blacks make up almost 50 percent of those newly infected, although African Americans comprise 12 percent of the national population.
“Look where it began, in the White gay community. Of course, many of us, Black and White began to stereotype the disease. What do you say now, when half of those who have the disease in our country are Black?,” U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D-District of Columbia, remarked at the summit.
According to policy information from CFAR, “Black Americans are also much more likely to die of the disease than their white counterparts, with Blacks making up 57 percent of all HIV related deaths in 2007.”
Keeping with the NAACP’s commitment to legislative advocacy, during the second day of the summit, groups of attendees spent a day on Capitol Hill speaking to their legislators about HIV/AIDS related legislation and policy.
The Association has also released an Action Alert supporting the passage of H.R. 1880, a bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, which would require the Obama administration to in part, “issue a report detailing the key steps it has taken in the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS strategy, specifically how the government is doing in its attempts to meet the goals of reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities, and achieving a more coordinated national response to the HIV epidemic.”