Monday, December 1, 2008

The struggle to fight HIV/AIDS must continue

On this 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the NAACP reminds all that every 12 seconds someone contracts HIV. Every 16 seconds someone dies from AIDS. Since its onset, more than 2 million worldwide have died. These alarming figures take on greater significance as the disease disproportionately impacts blacks above all other groups.

"It is vitally important that African Americans unify to eradicate the spread of HIV/AIDS and advocate for policies that assist those most impacted," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "We must stand together to keep the issue of AIDS at the top of the political agenda and demand funding for treatment, education and prevention at home and abroad. Furthermore, we must make the commitment to change the behaviors that continue to put our community at the greatest risk."

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) the proportion of HIV/AIDS infections in the African American community approximately doubled between 1985 and 2006, with black women representing 67 percent of female AIDS cases and black teens making up two-thirds of new infections in their age group. Once testing positive, African Americans are seven times more likely to die from the disease than whites.

On the international front, the AIDS epidemic continues to rage on in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, the continent of Africa is home to approximately 11 percent of the world's population but has approximately 60 percent of all of the world's people living with HIV infection.

Recognizing the need to address this crisis, the NAACP has worked to break the silence surrounding HIV/AIDS in the Black community. These efforts include holding marches, producing educational films, reports, public testing of NAACP leaders as well as training by an array of experts in the field. Internationally, the NAACP has worked to shed light on the vicious use of rape as a tool of war in the Congo. Since 1997 the NAACP has passed several resolutions that call for eliminating racial disparities in our nation's approach to the AIDS epidemic in order to abolish the disproportionate incidences and deaths of African Americans.

"Black America must eliminate the homophobia from our culture that is perhaps the single greatest barrier to our ability to talk about AIDS," said Willis Edwards, NAACP National Board member and vice chair of the HIV/AIDS subcommittee of the NAACP Health Committee. "Everyone in the African American community must be educated and get tested, no matter who they are or what they think. We call on all leaders and activists to stand up against this virus that is killing us in our silence and complacency."

Established by the World Health Organization in 1988, World AIDS Day, observed annually on Dec. 1, serves to focus global attention on the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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