I'm excited to be back as a regular contributor to Black Voices as we commemorate both Black History Month and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Sunday, February 7th. This is "Greater Than AIDS," a new monthly column that will run in conjunction with the national Greater Than AIDS movement. Our goal is inform Black people about activities that our community is already engaged in -- and to enlist your support in what we still need to accomplish -- to overcome HIV/AIDS and bring the epidemic to an end.
Black people have been greater than any challenge we have confronted in the past. We were greater than the Middle Passage. We were greater than slavery. We were greater than Reconstruction. We were greater than Jim Crow. And, we will be greater than AIDS as well.
Yet each year more than 56,000 Americans contract HIV -- almost half of whom are Black. Black people account for two-thirds of the infections that occur among women. Among youth, that number rises to 70 percent. Research conducted among young Black gay and bisexual men suggests that about half of them are HIV-positive. And the AIDS rate in our nation's capital is as high as that of many African countries. These are the challenges we face. These are the challenges we cannot afford to ignore.
We confront these issues at a unique time in Black American history. Slightly over one year ago, we celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama, America's first Black president. In 2006, then-Senator Obama spoke about the power of Black people to come together to be greater than this disease. Presidential candidate Obama promised to focus on the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic, with a particular emphasis on reducing the disproportionate impact of HIV on communities of color.
And, over the past 12 months, much progress has been made. Last April, the White House and CDC launched "Act Against AIDS," the first national HIV/AIDS social-marketing effort the government has undertaken in 20 years. The Administration is also working to create the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a road map that will help federal agencies and state health departments work more strategically and collaboratively to fight AIDS.
The President has also lifted the ban against syringe exchanges that replace injection-drug users' dirty needles, as well as laws barring people with HIV from traveling to our country. These changes bring the United States in line with global human rights and HIV policy standards, paving the way for the U.S. to host the International AIDS Conference in 2012 -- the first time in over 20 years. And this month, the President is scheduled to announce the members of the President's Advisory Commission on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), a key group that will help keep AIDS at the top of his agenda.
At the same time, however, our nation's economic crisis is forcing state and local governments to make hard choices about how they spend their dwindling financial resources. Funding is being cut to organizations that treat and support people with HIV and AIDS, and waiting lists for low-income people who need governmental subsidies for AIDS medications are lengthening.
As we mark another Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I'm reminded that governments can only do so much. Each of us has the power to make a difference in response to AIDS – in our relationships, in our families, and in our communities. Today, Black people are educating themselves about HIV/AIDS, getting their annual or semi-annual HIV test, increasing their involvement in the movement to end the disease and seeking treatment if they need it. But we must not become complacent; for in our community, every day presents a new opportunity to respond to this disease, to protect ourselves, to challenge stigmas, and to embrace our brothers and sisters who are already living with the virus.
Black leaders and institutions are tuned in and are making AIDS part of their mission as never before. Among them are the new chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Danny Bakewell, Sr.; his predecessor, John B. Smith Sr., Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA's editor-in-chief; and Dorothy Lavelle, president of the NNPA Foundation -- all of whom I want to thank for their longstanding support on this issue.
Against this backdrop, we start this Greater Than AIDS conversation. I invite you to go to GreaterThan.org to learn the facts, listen to real talk from real people, and find out where you can get tested and how to become involved. While you're there, don't forget to share your comments. I look forward to hearing from you and exchanging thoughts on how we are greater than AIDS.
Phill Wilson is President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute.