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HIV/AIDS – taking it to the streets

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Last year Blacks saw some tremendous advances in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including long-awaited scientific breakthroughs that may soon help prevent HIV, but also some major setbacks.

As we move through 2011, here are five ways that the Black community can mobilize itself to bring us closer to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our communities.

Acknowledge and address new political realities

The mid-term elections shifted America’s political landscape, including for the HIV/AIDS movement. With a divided federal government, we need to focus on new ways to create policy change. We need to be more strategic in our policy work and engage in some good, old-fashioned education and advocacy work.

We must identify who among our allies remains in Congress. It’s time to remind these old friends that we still need their support and that the work they have engaged in thus far has not been in vain. We also need to create new supporters and then educating and mobilizing their constituents to communicate to these representatives the importance of HIV/AIDS issues.

Protect health care reform

The Health Care Affordability Act was probably the most significant HIV-related legislation in the history of the epidemic. The removal of previously existing conditions, the lifting of the lifetime and annual bans, the potential adjustments in Medicare and Medicaid and the creation of health zones are extremely important for people living with HIV.

In 2011 health care reform will face numerous challenges. Many members of Congress pledge to kill health care reform and cut the federal deficit. It is highly unlikely they will repeal health care reform, but they may succeed in starving it by depriving critical measures of funding and/or delaying and/or complicating their implementation.

We need to be vigilant to make sure this doesn’t happen. 

Transform the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

We need to analyze the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and translate it into a policy document that relates explicitly and specifically to Black people, then we need to develop strategies to mobilize African-Americans to make sure we are involved every step of the way.

Prepare Blacks for scientific breakthroughs

If a cure for AIDS were discovered today, the infrastructure does not exist to ensure that Black Americans would have access to it. It is more important than ever that we raise HIV science literacy in Black communities. We need to build a Black AIDS-treatment network composed of community members, clinicians, and people living with HIV and AIDS who educate Black America on the state of HIV science and treatment, and ensure that people who need care and treatment have access to and utilize it.

Have conversations about HIV/AIDS with those who need them most

In 2010, we launched an aggressive HIV/AIDS social-marketing campaign targeting Black America – specifically to gay and bisexual Black men, as well as to women, faith leaders, and people living with HIV. In 2011 we need to expand these efforts.

We cannot end the HIV epidemic in Black America if we allow homophobia or a general discomfort with talking about sex to prevent us from creating an honest, frank, and vigorous HIV conversation.

Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only National HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. He can be reached at PhillWilson@BlackAIDS.org.

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