February 7 Marks National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day; African Americans are Encouraged to Learn More About the Virus, Get Tested and Treated

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb 6, 2009) - The ninth annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is Saturday, Feb. 7; a time to recognize the disproportionately heavy toll the HIV epidemic has taken on African Americans. The observance is designed to encourage African Americans across the nation to "get educated, get tested, get involved, and get treated."

"The burden of HIV/AIDS among African Americans remains high," said state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "That's why it's so critical that all African-Americans educate themselves about HIV/AIDS, get tested, become involved in promoting awareness within their families and in their communities, and seek treatment if they are living with this virus.

Estimates of new infections in 2006 show that Blacks/African Americans are 7.5 times more likely to be newly infected as Whites, with 105 new infections per 100,000 people as compared with 14 per 100,000 for Whites. Hispanics are also more likely to acquire new infections than Whites, with an estimated 70 Hispanics newly infected per 100,000 population.

These estimates are based on a new methodology known as HIV incidence estimation, developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to gauge the national epidemic. Approximately 5,900 new infections are estimated to have occurred in New York State in 2006 with three-quarters, or 4,440, estimated to have occurred in communities of color, including 2,500 (42 percent) in Blacks/African Americans and 1,720 (29 percent) in Hispanics as compared to 1,460 (25 percent) in Whites.

The new data show that New York's epidemic has changed remarkably over time. For example, in the early 1990's, 52 percent of all persons reported to DOH as having AIDS were injection drug users. The new CDC methodology predicts that only 8 percent of those newly infected in 2006 are among this population.

"We are encouraged that our prevention programs are having some great successes that are reflected in the new data, and as a state, we are heading in the right direction," Commissioner Daines said. "Our obstetricians and prenatal care programs have encouraged HIV testing. With more than 95 percent of pregnant women being tested, infected women are now receiving effective treatment, and fewer than 2 percent of infants born to HIV-infected mothers are themselves infected. The disease burden among drug injectors has been dramatically reduced, due in large part to New York's aggressive support of expanded access to sterile syringes over the last 15 years. In these difficult fiscal times, we continue to support the nation's largest HIV prevention program, but there is still much more to be done."

"We must continue to build on those prevention programs that have proven effective in reducing the number of new infections and conduct research to develop new prevention strategies," said Humberto Cruz, Director of DOH's AIDS Institute. "African American men and women face the most severe rates of HIV infection, and a significant proportion of our funding goes to serving them, but our prevention efforts and strategies must continue to be tailored to address their specific needs."