During Pride Month, there are plenty of discussions happening. The controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill and LGBTQ+ representation in media, to name a few. However, there is another important topic of discussion that might not be happening enough.
The HIV/AIDS crisis is still raging in many countries. The HIV/AIDS crisis is still raging in Atlanta.
For those who don’t know, HIV and AIDS aren’t the same. HIV, short for human immunodeficiency virus, is a sexually transmitted disease. HIV finds white blood cells and copies itself into them. The white blood cell is killed in the process. Over time, this weakens the immune system and can lead to disease, or even death.
The acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is HIV gone untreated. Infections increase, while the number of white blood cells decreases. And while the mortality rate for AIDS has gone down in the last few years, it remains a deadly virus. This virus is significantly affecting Atlanta residents.
HIV/AIDS is a continuing epidemic, and it is affecting Black and Hispanic men at a disproportionate rate. In 2019, AIDSVu, an online mapping tool that identifies areas where HIV is prevalent, found that roughly 37,000 people were living with HIV in Atlanta. Over three-quarters of that number were Black. Overall, gay, bisexual and pansexual men make up the largest number of that group. Currently, Black women are nearly 16 times more likely to acquire HIV than white women.
“Downtown Atlanta has a generalized HIV epidemic that mirrors what we see in some African cities,” said Carlos del Rio, a co-director for AIDS research at Emory University.
The trend of high rates of HIV among men of color isn’t just an Atlanta thing. The website HIV.gov reported that Black and Hispanic people make up 66% of all HIV-infected individuals in Atlanta.
Blacks and Hispanics tend to make lower incomes and live in poorer areas on average. Some argue that lower incomes play a key factor in these men not being screened for HIV testing. Some simply cannot afford the kind of medical attention required to keep themselves and others safe.
Ideas of what masculinity and religion mean to some men of color have been considered as reasons why they are disproportionately affected.
Regardless of the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that Black and Hispanic LGBTQ+ men are at a higher risk for HIV infection then their white counterparts.
Breakthroughs in medical care have enabled some to live a meaningful life even after being diagnosed as HIV positive. Organizations like the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program provide medical care for patients. Grady Memorial Hospital tests people for it, and drugs have been made to ensure that people living with HIV can live longer.
But it wasn’t always this way.
On June 5, 1981, a report from the Centers of Diease Control and Prevention (CDC) described five gay men in California as coming down with pneumonia. Otherwise healthy, two of them died shortly after. Only it wasn’t common pneumonia. It was AIDS.
During the next four years, advocate groups were formed to combat the newly discovered virus. In 1982, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, a non-profit organization, was formed. The CDC continued to report on the virus, discovering that most cases were from gay men and those who abused illegal drugs. In four years, the virus killed around 3,500 people in the U.S.
By 1987, more action was taken in the U.S to combat the AIDS epidemic. Flyers were sent to homes. The CDC created public service announcements and held conferences about the effect HIV was having on communities of color. And while more information was being discovered by scientists about the virus, it continued to take thousands of lives.
By 1992, HIV was the leading cause of death for young men in the United States.
Things have improved significantly in terms of treatment for those living with HIV. The stigma, however, is still there.
HIV was linked with homosexuality as in the early-1980s; it was designated by many as the “gay plague.” Some men living with HIV didn’t want to reveal they have it. They didn’t want the association. That thought process is the same for some men living with HIV now.
The stigma of HIV infection has arguably been exacerbated by some in the media. Popular rapper DaBaby made anti-HIV comments last year. He linked the disease directly to homosexuality.
So no, HIV didn’t vanish in 2000. HIV is still affecting people all across the world. The pandemic that started in 1981 is ongoing. Impoverished countries like Zimbabwe are still struggling. The richest country in the world is still struggling.
The Big Peach is called the “public health capital of the world,” but thousands of its citizens are still coping with a deadly virus.