L-R, Ashley Smith, AIDS Foundation, J. Carl Devine and Steve Kornell
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Community members, educators, healthcare professionals, state health officials and local representatives gathered at the Enoch Davis Center last Saturday for a one-day conference held by the Banyan Tree Project, Inc.
The conference, part of the Ujima Men’s Collective initiative, was held to discuss issues surrounding the ongoing HIV health crisis among African-American gay men, or same gender loving men. Discussions also revealed striking disparities in rates of African American perinatal HIV and HIV among blacks versus Latinos and whites.
The day-long event covered a number of specific issues that are being ignored by the media that point to grave statistics in the rates of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community, and covered topics including policy, HIV and mental health, relationships, stigma, drug laws, financial health and trends.
Presenters included Ron Henderson, health equity manager and statewide minority AIDS coordinator, Christopher Bates, former director of the Office of HIV/AIDS at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Cheryl Howell, Affordable Housing director, Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners and Michael Benjamin-Robinson, the BACH Group, a New Orleans minority support practice. Also, District 5 City Council member Steve Kornell showed up to lend his support.
According to the Florida Department of Health, there has been some positive news:
Within the 20 Florida counties with the highest rates of AIDS among African Americans:
There has been a 40 percent decline in HIV cases among black heterosexual women and a 42 percent decline overall since 2005
While HIV was the number one cause of death among African Americans ages 25-44, in 2016 it was the fifth cause of death
However, on the negative side of the scale:
There has been a rise in the rate of HIV among African-American youth, with 74 percent of pediatric HIV infection cases existing in the black community, and 100 percent of all perinatal HIV (transmitted by birth) occurring among blacks
Among African-American MSM (men having sex with men) there has been an 18 percent increase in HIV between 2005 and 2014
Black women still account for 63 percent of all HIV cases, compared to less than 20 percent among Latinos and whites
African Americans comprise only 14 percent of the adult population in Florida but represent 41 percent of HIV cases
While African Americans represent only 14 percent of American teens, in 2013, they accounted for more than two-thirds (67 percent) of new cases
African Americans represent more than 51 percent of new cases among MSM aged 13-24, and the number of new infections in this age range rose by 78 percent in the black community