America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic

Yesterday, the front page of the New York Times featured an article on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black LGBT community in the southern United States. The article claims that “America’s black gay and bisexual men have a higher HIV rate than any” other country in the world. I will discuss that claim later in this post, but first I must take issue with the language that the author uses. The phrase “black gay and bisexual men” is an oddly put-together phrase. It makes it sound as though the black men in the southern LGBT community are both gay and bisexual, which is impossible as one is exclusive male-male attraction and the other is defined as attraction to all genders. Knowing the definition of “gay” and “bisexual” makes it somewhat obvious that the two are different sexualities.

Much of the article is anecdotal, following the philanthropy of Cedric Sturdevant in the HIV/AIDS-ridden Jackson, Mississippi. Sturdevant is a project coordinator for My Brother’s Keeper, an HIV/AIDS support group. Sturdevant watches over a plethora of young black men with HIV. Much of the article is centered around this. I was more interested in the empirical side of the article to see where the author’s claims came from.

The more empirical parts of the article make good points. The author talks about how the HIV crisis is the most prevalent in the South. The South makes up 37% of the country’s population and 54% of all new HIV cases. The South is home to 21 of 25 cities in the US with the highest HIV rates, and there are fewer resources for gay men in this area. 40% of the gay or bisexual men in Jackson, MI have HIV.

The article briefly talks about Truvada, a preventive drug against HIV. The acronym for this is PrEP, and was approved by the FDA based on two clinical trials. More than 80,000 patients have filled prescriptions in the past four years. This sounds great, but only 48% of black gay or bisexual men use preventive drugs against HIV, and the numbers are lower for younger men. Black people only account for 10% of all PrEP prescriptions.

The beginning of the article claims that rates of HIV/AIDS in the black LGBT community in the Southern United States are higher than in all countries. I found this to be an odd claim to make, given the anti-gay sentiments in many African countries that would prevent men from reporting their sickness. For example, Uganda passed an anti-LGBT bill that, according to the Guardian, led to a tenfold increase in violence against LGBT people. The BBC reports that anti-gay hate crimes are a quite large problem in South Africa, despite its allowance of same-sex marriage. Politicians in Kenya hold strong anti-gay sentiments, according to NPR.

Such a hostile environment against LGBT people, and the perceived connection between homosexuality and HIV will only prevent gay or bisexual men from reporting that they have the autoimmune disease. The NIH supports this phenomenon of inaccurate reporting.

I do agree with the article that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic, but at no point in the article did the author recognize the phenomenon of inaccurate reporting of HIV levels in Africa.

My next post will be on the comment section regarding this article.

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