This Friday, February 7th, is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). It's an opportunity for the nation to take a look at the AIDS epidemic in Black America from a uniquely and unapologetically black point of view. Given the demographics of the AIDS epidemic in this country, this is a very important day.
The Black AIDS Institute's Black treatment advocate networks (BTANS) are hosting Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) forums around the country (Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Ft. Lauderdale, Jackson, Little Rock, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Oakland) to raise awareness and educate our communities about PrEP.
Here's why Pre-exposure Prophylaxis of HIV is important to black people: 35 years into this epidemic and with all we know about HIV, we still have alarming rates of new HIV infections in this country. Roughly 50,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year and 44 percent are black. In many parts of the country, 1 in 2 black gay men are already HIV infected – and many of them don't know it.
Think about are you in a committed monogamous relationship? Are all your friends and family in committed monogamous relationships? If not, do you and do you think all your friends and love ones use condoms with every sexual encounter. If not, you need to know about PrEP.
PrEP is a treatment for people who are not infected with HIV (that is, they are HIV negative, or HIV-), that uses one of the antiretroviral treatments that people with HIV/AIDS use, to prevent acquisition of the HIV virus. In clinical trials, when used properly, PrEP reduces the risk of acquiring the virus by more than 90 percent. Yes, 90 percent!
If you look at the AIDS epidemic in black communities, you would not know that that we have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic in America. Most black folks are unaware or have misinformation about the new tools that could change the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic in our community and dramatically reduce their risk of HIV infection. PrEP is one of them.
Those attending the PrEP forums will learn what PrEP is, who it's for, how you use it, and what the risks and benefits are. We will look at the possible impact of using PreP on condom usage.
Current guidelines recommend PrEP be used with condoms. But for people who have already chosen not to use condoms or are unable to use condoms on a consistent basis, using PrEP may provide some level of protection.
Given the epidemic in black communities, we need to know everything we can possibly know about all of the potential tools available to us in order to make informed, rational decisions about which tools to use in which circumstances.
The combination of treatment as prevention – with the possibility of reducing transmission of HIV by more than 90 percent – and PrEP – with the possibility of reducing acquisition of HIV by more than 90 percent – has the promise to break the back of the HIV epidemic in our community. That's a conversation we must have.
We look forward to seeing you at one of our forums on Friday. Check out the www.BlackAIDS.org to find the BTAN PrEP forum nearest you. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
Finally, if you want to help in the fight against AIDS in black communities, please enter the "Drive Out AIDS raffle" at www.AIDSraffle.org for a chance to win a 2014 Kia Forte. If you enter the Drive Out AIDS raffle before Friday, February 7th, you get entered into the four-day Carnival Cruise raffle for free.
(NNPA Columnist Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. He can be reached by email at Phill Wilson AT BlackAIDS.org.)