Blacks More Worried about HIV than Whites

George E. Curry | 5/7/2009, 12:02 a.m.

Blacks are six times more likely to be very concerned about becoming infected with HIV than Whites, a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation has disclosed.

Respondents were asked: €Bearing in mind the different ways people can be infected with HIV, how concerned are you personally about becoming infected with HIV?€

Thirty-eight percent of African-Americans replied that they were €very concerned€ about being infected with HIV. Only six percent of Whites gave the same answer. In addition, 13 percent of Blacks said they were €somewhat concerned€ about becoming infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, compared to 10 percent of Whites. When the very concerned and somewhat concerned responses were combined, 51 percent of African-Americans expressed a high degree of fear, compared to 16 percent of Whites.

Among Latinos polled, 25 percent said they were very concerned about being infected with HIV and 17 percent reported being somewhat concerned.

Among both African-Americans and Latinos, an identical 32 percent reported that they were €not at all concerned€ about contracting HIV. Among Whites, that figure was 58 percent.

Blacks view HIV/AIDS far more seriously than any other group. Of those polled, 40 percent of Blacks said AIDS is a more urgent health problem than it was a few years ago. About 35 percent of Latinos agreed and only 10 percent of Whites feel the problem is more urgent.

The African-American community has been devastated by HIV/AIDS. Although the Census Bureau reports that Blacks make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, African-Americans represent about half of all new AIDS cases.

Black women account for 61 percent of all new HIV infections among women; the majority of the infections among Black women are a result of heterosexual activity. A major study in five major cities found that 46 percent of Black men having sex with men were HIV-positive, compared to 21 percent of White gay men. Black teenagers are 16 percent of those aged 13 to 19, but represent 69 percent of all new AIDS cases among teens. Since the epidemic was first identified a quarter of a century ago, more than 200,000 Blacks with AIDS have died.

To more effectively combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, officials from the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have recently announced a five-year, €Act Against AIDS€ initiative that will focus on education, prevention and treatment. The campaign was launched in cooperation with 14 nationally-known Black groups, including the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).
More than a million people in the United States are living with HIV. In 2006, according to the CDC, 56,300 people became infected with HIV. On average, a person gets infected with HIV every 9 1/2 minutes.

Despite those numbers, a decreasing number of Americans say they have heard or read a lot about AIDS. The number of Whites who report that they have read or heard €a lot€ or €some€ about AIDS fell from 68 percent in 2004 to 40 percent in 2009. The decline for African-Americans was less pronounced, falling from 83 percent to 65 percent over the same period.

€This is a tribute to the amazing job Black media is doing keeping HIV/AIDS on the radar in Black communities,€ Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, said in a statement.

The survey also showed that African-Americans were twice as likely as Whites to have a close personal connection to the epidemic. Among Blacks polled, 38 percent said they have a close friend or family member who has died from AIDS or tested positive for HIV. For Whites, that figure was 19 percent, one percentage point lower than Latinos.

Misconceptions still persist about transmission of HIV, the report noted. For example, 27 percent of those questioned incorrectly thought that HIV could be transmitted by sharing a drinking glass, another 17 percent wrongly thought the virus could be passed along by touching a toilet seat and 14 percent mistakenly believed that they could become infected by being in a swimming pool with someone HIV-positive.

€The report shows that we must do a better job of educating the public,€ said C. Virginia Fields, president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. €People need to know the basic facts about this devastating epidemic.€

The lack of knowledge about HIV contributes to workplace attitudes about those who have HIV/AIDs, the report found. Less than 45 percent of those interviewed said they would be €very uncomfortable€ working with someone who has HIV/AIDS, if their child had a teacher who was HIV-positive, if they had an HIV-positive roommate or had food prepared by someone HIV-positive.

€Important shares of the public also continue to be uninformed or misinformed about the current state of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment,€ the report stated. €More than half (55 percent) do not know that a pregnant woman with HIV can take drugs to reduce the risk of her baby being born infected, nearly one in five (18 percent) are unaware that there is no cure for AIDS, and 12 percent do not know that there are drugs available that can lengthen the lives of people with HIV.€

Blacks show a greater sensitivity to the epidemic than Whites in more than a half-dozen categories.

€African Americans and to a lesser extent, Latinos express more interest in and urgency about the HIV epidemic than whites,€ the report concluded. €They are more likely to name it as an urgent problem for the nation and their local community, to express personal concern about becoming infected, and to say they have heard a lot about AIDS in the U.S. in the past year. They are also more likely to say the U.S. is losing ground on the problem of HIV/AIDS and to think that spending more money on HIV treatment will lead to meaningful progress in slowing the epidemic.€