CDC: AIDS the Leading Cause of Death Among African American Women Aged 25-44

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68% of women who contract AIDS are black. The CDC also reported AIDS was a leading cause of death among black women ages 25 to 44. We speak with the National Coalition of One Hundred Black Women. [includes rush transcript]

In the US, African-Americans make up nearly 13% of the population but accounted for 51% of new HIV diagnoses in 2004. This according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 68% of women who contract AIDS are black. The CDC also reported AIDS was a leading cause of death among black women ages 25 to 44.

At the 2004 Vice Presidential debates, moderator Gwen Ifil asked the candidates about this crisis in the African-American community.

  • Excerpt of 2004 Vice Presidential Debate.

Yesterday, AIDS activists and those living with HIV spoke at the Human Rights Campaign press conference in Washington D.C.

  • Courtney Snowden, HIV/AIDS acitivist.

We speak with the National Coalition of One Hundred Black Women.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In the U.S., African Americans make up nearly 13% of the population, but accounted for 51% of new HIV diagnoses in 2004, this according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 68% of women who contract AIDS are black. The C.D.C. also reported AIDS was a leading cause of death among black women ages 25 to 44. At the 2004 Vice Presidential debates, moderator Gwen Ifill asked the candidates about this crisis in the African American community.

GWEN IFILL: I will talk to you about healthcare, Mr. Vice President. You have two minutes, but in particular, I want to talk to you about AIDS. And not about AIDS in China or Africa, but AIDS right here in this country, where black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are thirteen times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts. What should the government’s role be in helping to end the growth of this epidemic?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, this is a great tragedy, Gwen, when you think about the enormous cost here in the United States and around the world of the AIDS epidemic, pandemic really. Millions of lives lost, millions more infected and facing a very bleak future. In some parts of the world, we have got — the entire sort of productive generation has been eliminated as a result of AIDS. All that is left are old folks and kids, nobody to do the basic work that runs an economy.

The President has been deeply concerned about it. He has moved, proposed and gotten through the Congress authorization for $15 billion to help in the international effort to be targeted in those places where we need to do everything we can through a combination of education, as well as providing the kinds of medicines that will help people control the infection.

Here in the United States, we’ve made significant progress. I had not heard those numbers with respect to African American women. I was not aware that it was that severe an epidemic there, because we have made progress in terms of the overall rate of AIDS infection, and I think primarily through a combination of education and public awareness, as well as the development as a result of research of drugs that allow people to live longer lives, even though they are infected. Obviously, we need to do more of that.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Vice President Dick Cheney at the 2004 Vice Presidential debates. Yesterday, AIDS activists and those living with HIV spoke at the Human Rights Campaign news conference in Washington, D.C.

COURTNEY SNOWDEN: For two decades now, we’ve known that HIV and AIDS doesn’t incriminate. Whether you’re white, black, Latino or Asian, whether you’re gay or straight, man or woman, rich or poor, you’re at risk. Tragically, though, HIV and AIDS disproportionately affects communities of color. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month shows that African Americans are eight times more likely, and Latinos three times more likely, than whites to be diagnosed with HIV.

As a young black woman, I’m especially concerned about another alarming statistic. HIV and AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25 to 34. This is not only disturbing, it’s infuriating. This disease is preventable, but our government has consistently failed to adequately address this epidemic and provide the tools necessary to eradicate this disease. They have cut prevention dollars, and they’ve decreased funding for care as demand has risen. I want my tax dollars spent on real prevention and care toward real research, toward real education.

AMY GOODMAN: AIDS activist Courtney Snowden speaking in Washington, D.C. yesterday. We’re joined on the telephone from Los Angeles by Grazell Howard, Vice President of the National Coalition of One Hundred Black Women. The organization is the co-host, along with the Black AIDS Institute of the first national conference on black women and HIV, which began yesterday in Los Angeles and is continuing through the weekend. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Grazell Howard.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this population of women, African American women, that I think — well, the Vice President says he didn’t know about in 2004. Has awareness become any greater since?

GRAZELL HOWARD: Awareness is not the issue as much as the disease is transcending culture, socioeconomic background, so that middle-class black women are obtaining HIV and AIDS from heterosexual contact. Housewives with single partners numbers are rising, as well as women over the age of 50, so the National Coalition, along with the Black AIDS Institute felt that it was imperative that we convene black women in America across socioeconomic status to let them know they must empower themselves, be educated and mobilize, especially around policy, prevention and treatment and testing, and then ultimately, the removal of the stigma.

In America, we have the opportunities to create new prevention strategies that have a cultural construct, and unfortunately, that is not happening in Africa, and it is certainly not happening in America, as it relates to people of color, whether it’s Latina, Asian or black women.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You may have heard from some of the people we interviewed earlier that are concerned that, at least internationally, the Bush administration is placing a lot of emphasis in its prevention efforts through faith-based organizations with more of an agenda of the President’s, himself. Is that happening here nationwide, as well?

GRAZELL HOWARD: Well, there is certainly some attention being placed on the faith-based initiatives around HIV and AIDS and, Juan, as you know, the pulpit, as we call it, yesterday — from the pulpit to the school house, it’s certainly still an upward struggle in terms of engaging churches. I don’t want to mislead anyone to say some of the largest churches in America are certainly on board, some of our largest black churches, but at the same time, there’s still a struggle and a challenge within the faith-based community to determine how they want to address whether it’s testing, prevention, treatment or removal of the stigma.

And in the area of prevention, as one of the callers said earlier, prevention is still not respected in America. I mean, even the C.D.C. has an opportunity to really have scientific evidence that will document treatment that is effective for black women or for women, in general. We have not found that there’s many studies done to determine the efficacy of programs for black women. And we know through other health disparity cases that there are certain things that must be culturally sensitive, culturally fluent, in order for that scientific information to trickle down for people to (1) modify behavior, (2) engage in clinical trials and testing, and (3) become advocates about removing the stigma so that one day we will talk about HIV and AIDS the same way today we stand in solidarity on cancer.

AMY GOODMAN: What exactly needs to be done?

GRAZELL HOWARD: What needs to be done is (1) that we need to have studies that are culturally considerate, and understand how and why black women are still dying at such an alarming rate. 78% of all new AIDS cases are still black women, and they are not obtaining this through intravenous drug use, but through heterosexual contact. So, (1) we can re-examine the federal and local policies on needle exchange; (2) We can then look at the mental health challenges associated with HIV and AIDS, and Congress and the White House can stop the flat funding and cutting of the C.D.C.’s prevention budget.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about availability of AIDS treatment medicines?

GRAZELL HOWARD: You know, that also — the lack of access to the sophisticated drugs that we do know work — and let me stop here and say prevention does work, and so some people yesterday touted that there was good news. There is news; there is hopeful news that there was a decrease in the number of HIV/AIDS cases from 2000 to 2004 for black women. That decrease was 2%. There’s an overall 6% decrease for blacks in America, but what we also know is prevention works. So Ryan White is going to be re-appropriated. We have to get rigor and energy around that and craft it differently. The things that happened at the beginning of this pandemic 20-plus years ago is not what’s happening now.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan White is? Explain for people who aren’t aware.

GRAZELL HOWARD: Certainly. The Ryan White is a young man who died of HIV and AIDS, and the funding, the initial funding for HIV and AIDS and this disease was funded under his name and in his spirit. And then in the Bill Clinton administration, we could not get the Clinton administration to declare AIDS an emergency in America for blacks, but they provided funding. So it was the second time we had really robust funding around HIV and AIDS. Now we have an opportunity once again, if we afford this disease emergency status, we then are afforded certain funding and other rights that would really show that America actually cares about all its citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Grazell Howard, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Grazell Howard is the Vice President of the National Coalition of One Hundred Black Women.

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