NEW YORK—According to the Centers for Disease Control, among all states in the United States, New York has the highest number of residents infected with AIDS.
In recognition of World AIDS Day on Dec.1, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) will be holding education and awareness activities throughout the United States. On Nov. 30, the NBLCA held the first of its activities at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan.
“World AIDS Day is just one time, one day, one possibility of more people focusing on this at the same time so that through our collective effort across the world, hopefully will encourage more people to get information, get tested, and then get involved,” said C. Virginia Fields, president and CEO of NBLCA.
World AIDS Day first began on Dec. 1, 1998, and has been recognized on the same day annually. This year marks its 20th year. It was started in order to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and to help get communities educated about prevention.
“The day was originally to create awareness at a time when, in this country, we were seeing an increase, especially in African-Americans; and it is critically important to use this day for the continuing work that we must do every day,” said Fields.
According to UNAIDS, there are an estimated 33.2 million people currently living with HIV. In 2007 alone, an estimated 2.5 million people became infected with the virus. It is also estimated that half of all people who are infected with HIV were infected before the age of 25 and are killed by AIDS before the age of 35.
Fields, who became the first African-American woman to run for mayor in New York in 2005, has played an important role for the African-American community in New York. According to Fields, one of her major focuses in the NBLCA currently is to promote awareness of HIV and AIDS in African-American communities.
“This is an organization that is 21 years old. It was started when very little focus was given to HIV/AIDS in the black community,” said Fields.
“This organization grew to empower leaders in the black community because even without the data that was released by the Disease Control that shows 45 percent of all HIV cases are within the African-American community, even before this data was released, it was known to be a problem. This organization really grew out of that silence,” she said.
Ivan Thomas, a public relations representative with NBLCA explained the importance of promoting HIV and AIDS awareness in the African-American community. “If the African-American community in itself were a separate nation, it would be around number seven on the list out of the fourteen top [of those infected],” said Thomas.
“Washington, D.C., has a higher HIV rate than Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere,” he said. “That's how serious it is and people in the United States do not know this. People know about HIV and AIDS, but they don't know about the impact it's having in the U.S.”
The first case of AIDS was reported in the United States in 1981. It is caused by the virus HIV, which kills or impairs the cells of the immune system. Once diagnosed with AIDS, an individual's body becomes unable to combat certain infections, illnesses, and types of cancer, including some that would not normally affect a person who is uninfected with AIDS.