D.C. still leads the nation in HIV diagnoses. (Courtesy of MSF Access Campaign)
D.C. still leads the nation in HIV diagnoses. (Courtesy of MSF Access Campaign)

African Americans are far more likely than other ethnic groups in this country to contract HIV, but they are far less likely to get life-saving treatments aimed at stopping the virus’s spread, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC researchers, analyzing 2014 surveillance data from more than 650,000 people living with HIV in 37 states and D.C., found that less than 41 percent of Blacks consistently had the virus under control with antiretroviral medications, compared to 56 percent of Whites and 50 percent of Hispanics who had sustained viral suppression.

“It’s a very sobering analysis that shows we are not out of the woods yet in getting a handle on the domestic HIV epidemic,” Greg Millett, director of public policy at the D.C.-based Foundation for AIDS Research, said in a statement.

Millet, an epidemiologist, called the study “groundbreaking” and “damning.”

“If we’re not able to get African Americans diagnosed with HIV, to link them to care and keep them in care, then HIV is going to be part of the American landscape for some time to come,” he said.

The analysis painted the grimmest picture for young African Americans, for whom only 29 percent of HIV-infected between 13 and 24 years old, were receiving the medication they needed to suppress the virus.

“These findings underscore the importance of provider and public health efforts to reach all Americans living with HIV with effective treatment and care, including strategies to assist with adherence as needed,” Dr. Eugene McCray, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention said in an email to the Reuters news service. “Addressing barriers to HIV care and treatment is critical to eliminating health disparities.

“Recent progress — including steep declines in HIV diagnoses among African American women — is encouraging,” McCray said. “But we clearly have more work to do to ensure that testing and treatment are within reach of all people living with HIV.”

Millett, who was not involved in the study, also noted that most HIV-infected African Americans live in southern states that failed to take advantage of Affordable Care Act allowances to expand health care to lower-income people.

“There’s a very clear through line between our health care policies — meaning the lack of Medicaid expansion in the southern U.S. — and the outcomes among African Americans living with HIV in the United States,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to end HIV in the United States if we’re not going to keep African Americans in care and virally suppressed.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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