America’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

February 7th is the day every year (for the past 11 years) that seeks to draw attention to HIV/AIDS in the black community in the diaspora, particularly the States in response to the disproportionately high numbers of Black people affected by HIV when looking at number of people newly infected and number of deaths. HIV infection in Ontario, Canada is also disproportionately high amongst the Black community.  Part of the explanation of this disproportionate burden is structural, social inequities around poverty, employment, education and literacy.  Gender constructs and heterosexism (homophobia) are other structural factors that drive HIV within all communities, including the Black community.

Within the Black community,  women and gay men are at even higher risk for HIV. 92% of all women who are diagnosed with HIV in NYC are Black or Latina.  Black gay men are the focus of a very cool anti-homophobia campaign by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis,”I love my boo” (boo = boyfriend) to promote images of real men loving each other, and to help create the space where their love is okay.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a good example of a by-a-community, for-a-community event, and calls itself a “community mobilization initiative”. It works in partnership with organizations including the US Centre for Disease Control. The day is aimed at promoting education, testing, (volunteer) involvement, and treatment within the black community.  Getting tested and getting treated are two of the most important things that can be done to slow HIV, both at the population level and the individual level. (Condom use and other safer sex choices also help prevent HIV from occurring in the first place, but once HIV is contracted, its much better to know sooner than later.)

Although it isn’t the focus of a Product RED campaign like AIDS Awareness Day (December 1st) and doesn’t get nearly the amount of media or corporate attention, this day in moves far beyond awareness and is about much more than purchasing a drink at Starbucks and making a contribution of $0.05 to the Global Fund. Fundraising is also needed as both testing and treatment cost money (and given the projected Global Fund shortfall and recent accusations about its accountability) but mobilizing people to take the preventive steps that they can, to engage others in learning about HIV/AIDS and to draw attention to some of the equity issues that surround the distribution of HIV.

Educate! Test! Get Involved! Seek Treatment! Happy National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to you and yours.