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HIV and African Americans: Why It’s Still a Problem

hiv and african americans

On November 7, 1991, former NBA Star Magic Johnson shocked the sports world by announcing that he tested positive for HIV. He promptly retired from basketball and vowed to “battle this deadly disease.” 

“I think sometimes we think, well, only gay people can get it — ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ And here I am saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson,” he said during a press conference. 

magic johnson
Former NBA Star Magic Johnson/ Wikimedia Commons

Johnson’s revelation occurred at a time when an HIV diagnosis was thought to be a death sentence. So much so that, in the aftermath of his announcement, an NBA coach called for a moment of silence for Johnson during a game and led his players and the crowd in The Lord’s Prayer.

Now it is widely understood that with treatment, HIV-infected persons can lead healthy and successful lives. Also, it is common knowledge that anyone can contract the virus – not just gay people.  

Still, more than 30 years after Johnson’s announcement, HIV predominantly impacts African-Americans. We are contracting and dying from it at rates that surpass those of other racial and ethnic groups – just like with diabetes.

In fact, African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV cases compared to other races and ethnicities, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The 6 facts that follow show that, even decades later, HIV remains a viable threat to the African-American community:

African-Americans Have the Highest Rate of HIV Infection

Despite comprising 13% of the U.S. population, African Americans represented 42.1% of HIV infection cases in 2019. Of the estimated 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., 476,100 are Black. 

Black People Still Die from HIV More Than Any Other Group

Between 2010 and 2017, the number of HIV deaths for Black people decreased by 8%. Still, they accounted for 44% of all deaths among people with an HIV diagnosis in 2017, though that also includes deaths due to any cause, according to the CDC. 

Among African-Americans, Black Gay and Bisexual Men Are Impacted Most

From 2015-2019, Black and African American men who have sex with other men accounted for more than 30% of HIV diagnoses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That percentage surpassed that of their White and Hispanic peers. 

Among All Women, HIV Has Hit Black Women the Hardest 

Black women as a whole made up the largest share of new HIV cases at 4,114 or 58% in 2018. At the end of 2017, they also made up the largest share of women living with HIV, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported

The Rate of New HIV Cases for Blacks Far Surpass that of White Americans

In 2018, the rate of new HIV cases for Black adults and adolescents was at 47.5 per 100,000, which is eight times that of whites and more than twice that of Latinos. 

Most HIV Cases Involve Black People in the South

The South accounts for the majority of cases involving Black people newly diagnosed with HIV (63% in 2018). It is also the region where the majority with an HIV diagnosis lived at the end of 2017 (58%). 

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