National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Stay the Course; the Fight is Not Over!

by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and Lionel Hillard, Global Community Advisory Board Co-Chairs

Since 1999, communities across the United States have commemorated National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) every February 7th. Created in response to the growing incidence of HIV among African Americans, NBHAAD provides an opportunity to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and education as well as HIV testing and prevention initiatives. 

In the United States, African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of individuals living with HIV. The prevalence of HIV is especially high among youth, women, and men who have sex with men who are African American, and unfortunately the percentage of suboptimal outcomes (including co-morbidities, viremia, and death) are also high.

This year, the ACTG Network, many sites and CABs continued, as we do annually, to make efforts to communicate the importance of NBHAAD. Via writing, hosting or participating in local grassroots activities, speaking engagements, and workshops, our presence was felt across the country on this important day. However, though this is commendable, we cannot and should not stop there.

The NBHAAD theme for 2018 is “Stay the Course; the Fight is Not Over!” This is a rallying cry for us not to grow complacent. While we should celebrate recent successes (such as declining HIV rates in certain parts of the African American community, technological advances in HIV research and treatment, and more), there is still much to be done. Many people still lack adequate access to care; a sizable portion of individuals face barriers, including economic instability, trauma, and other social determinants of health; still others are unaware of their HIV status.

To combat complacency, we need to use a variety of tools. Meaningful involvement can be an effective method for engaging communities. This is something the ACTG has prioritized for several years, particularly within its partnership with the community. Visibility is also important. We must ensure our research sites, our clinics, and our CABs are representative of people of African American descent.

 We also need to acknowledge and address the unique strengths and challenges within this community and continue to work with African American community leaders, nonprofits, educators, health care organizations, faith based institutions, advocacy groups and others intersectional issues that increase HIV risk. We need to increase our usage of technology and social media for community mobilization, for outreach, for training. And we need to be intentional and proactive about the inclusion of multiply marginalized sectors with the African American community, particularly youth, women, immigrants, and transgender individuals.

This work is all our responsibility. And though we select one day in February each year to highlight it, it must take place throughout the year to be impactful. For when the Black community thrives, we all thrive.

For more information on NBHAAD, please visit the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Strategic Leadership Council website:  https://nationalblackaidsday.org