One in ten Pennsylvanians is African American, yet blacks account for about 50% of state residents afflicted with AIDS.
As part of an effort to raise awareness of AIDS and HIV in the black community, State Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) has introduced a resolution proclaiming February 7th as Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
The day is part of a national movement to get members of the black population tested and educated about the disease’s prevention.
HIV damages a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells which are needed to help the body fight disease, while AIDS is the late stage of HIV and occurs when a person’s immune system is damaged and has problems fighting diseases and certain cancers.
Wheatley said legislators take the virus very seriously, and held a roundtable today with lawmakers and those fighting the disease “on the ground.”
He said many people think of AIDS as not a threat anymore, but that notion isn’t true.
“The realities and the numbers that are showing from the state of Pennsylvania and nationally is, that for African Americans and Latinos, that this is a crisis epidemic that we definitely don’t have a good sense of.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 there were 513 new African American cases of AIDS in Pennsylvania compared to 318 Caucasian cases. There were also 841 new cases of HIV in Pennsylvania’s black community in 2009 compared to 504 white incidences.
Of those living with AIDS in Pennsylvania in 2010, 9,078 were black and 5,719 were white, while 15,235 Pennsylvania Africa Americans were living with HIV in 2009 compared to 10,019 Caucasians.
However, the African American community comprises about 10 percent of the commonwealth's population compared to a white population of roughly 82 percent.
Wheatley said people need to better educate themselves, and they need to work harder to fight the stigma around the virus. He said many people refuse to even be tested for the virus.
“Getting them the treatment and getting them the support that’s necessary. We want to make sure that we have our support systems and our operations set up so that that becomes easy, acceptable, and norm.”