A Startling Toll on African Americans

Today, February 7th, we commemorate the 7th National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day when we urge African Americans and all Americans to "Get Educated, Get Involved, and Get Tested."

On Monday, The House of Representatives voted 396-0 to approve the resolution I introduced to support the goals and ideals of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This is an important step, because I believe we must do everything in our power to raise the profile of this issue, and help stop the devastating toll this disease is taking on the African American community.

The numbers are startling.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, African Americans accounted for almost half of all new HIV infections in 2005.

According to the CDC, in 2005 African American women accounted for 66 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases among women, and were 25 times more likely to be infected than white women.

Today, AIDS is the NUMBER ONE cause of death among African American women between the ages of 25-34. Think about that for a moment, the number one cause of death.

Black gay men are also heavily affected by this disease. A recent CDC study in 2005 found that 46 percent of black gay men in five U.S. cities were HIV positive.

These statistics are simply outrageous.

At the end of last year, we took a positive bipartisan step forward in addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS among the African American community by ensuring that the Minority AIDS Initiative was formally included in the Ryan White CARE Act.

Now we have a responsibility to go even further.

We can start by funding the Minority AIDS Initiative at a minimum of $610 million, and by fully funding the Ryan White Treatment Modernization Act.

But we must also go beyond the money and get at the factors that are ultimately driving this epidemic among the African American community.

Poverty and discrimination, lack of affordable housing, the unequal and unjust impact of incarceration on black men, poor access to care and limited cultural competency for health providers - all of these deserve our attention and deserve action.

The color of our skin should never determine our health status or the quality of care we receive. Unfortunately, today to be black is to be at greater risk of HIV/AIDS.

As Members of Congress we have a responsibility to change that.

This is not an ideological issue. It is a moral and humanitarian call for equality and justice.

I urge my colleagues to join with me and make stopping the spread of this global pandemic a priority at home, and abroad.

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