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Shattering the Silence Around HIV/AIDS in the Black Community

by Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Huffington Post

Sharon Lettman-HicksToday marks the 12th year for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), which features public events that offer testing and prevention techniques throughout the U.S. This year's theme is "I am my Brother/Sister's Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS." This national day of community education and empowerment began as a means of engaging African Americans about the epidemic spread of HIV within our families and neighborhoods. While we have made great strides, the numbers are staggering and it remains clear that our most vulnerable -- youth, straight women, and gay/bisexual men -- need additional support networks to prevent the spread of HIV through education and testing.

While only representing 14 percent of the U.S. population, Black men and women account for 44 percent of all new HIV infections, according to the most recent information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2009. We are the most disproportionately impacted racial/ethnic group across all sub-populations [e.g., men, women, youth, and men who sleep with men (MSM)] in the United States -- at all stages of the disease -- from new infections to deaths.

At some point in our lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 Black men and 1 in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection. These numbers do not include those who will go undiagnosed. Shame, denial and lack of information about human sexuality fuel the skyrocketing HIV rates that we are experiencing.

However, there is good news. According to Phill Wilson, the Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, we now possess the tools to end the AIDS epidemic. To do so, we must first radically rethink our anxieties about human sexuality and commit to overcoming them.

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