Black Americans and HIV

Black Americans and HIV

By: AIDS Action Committee


Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic’s beginning, and that disparity has deepened over time. Blacks account for more new HIV infections, AIDS diagnosis, people estimated to be living with HIV disease, and HIV-related deaths than any other racial/ethnic group in the United States. The epidemic also had a disproportionate impact on Black women, youth, and gay and bisexual men, and its impact varies across the country. Moreover, Blacks with HIV may face greater barriers to accessing care than their white counterparts. Today, there are approximately 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, including 545,000 who are Black. Although Black Americans represent only 12% of the U.S. population, they account for 44% of new infections in 2009 and 46% of people living with HIV diseases. Blacks also account for almost half of new AIDS diagnoses in 2009.

AIDS Action currently provides services to one-in-six people in Massachusetts living with a diagnosis of HIV, and 40 percent of our clients living with HIV and AIDS are Black. Over the last decade, working with our partners around the state, AIDS Action has helped reduce new HIV diagnoses in Massachusetts by 59%, which has meant that 4,085 people who might otherwise have become HIV positive have remained negative, and more than $1.6 billion in health care costs will be saved. AIDS Action has done this by targeting those populations most vulnerable to HIV infection, including US and non-US born Black women, and Black gay and bisexual men.

What is AIDS Action doing specifically with communities of color and how is AIDS Action addressing health disparities?


Fact: AIDS Action Committee advocacy activities regularly and frequently call attention to race and poverty as the drivers of HIV/AIDS and the basis of health inequities. For example, on September 30, 2011, AIDS Action Committee’s CEO Rebecca Haag moderated “AIDS, Social Justice, and the Politics of Transformation,” a Ford Hall forum event that included Julie Davids, founder and co-director of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project; Guillermo Chacon, president and CEO of the Latino AIDS Commission; and Dazon Dixon Diallo, president of the Atlanta-basedSisterLove.

On November 19-20, 2011, AIDS Action Committee joined the Harvard University Center for AIDS Research, the NAACP, and others to examine the factors driving HIV/AIDS in black communities at a symposium entitled, “The Forgotten Epidemic: HIV/AIDS in Black America,” taking place at UMASS-Boston.


Fact: Community engagement and involvement creates lasting connections.

For 21 years, AIDS Action has hosted the Bayard Rustin breakfast. The breakfast, which is free and open to the public, brings together 500 elected officials, activists, community and religious leaders and HIV/AIDS and GLBT leaders from communities of color to be informed, affirmed, and empowered about the disease.

Named for Bayard Ristom, who was one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and who was gay, the Breakfast celebrates those who have shown uncommon courage in fighting HIV/AIDS in communities of color. It is through his spirit that AIDS Action gathers annually to honor those who have been instrumental in fighting HIV/AIDS in communities of color. Over the past 21 years, nearly 500 community members have attended this annual celebration.


Fact: AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women in the U.S. between 25 and 34 years of age. African-American women are affected by HIV/AIDS at levels 23 and 15 times that of white women.

In response, AIDS Action has developed the Women’s Health Disparities Project to serve HIV-affected black women. Supported by a multi-year grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, this unique collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Bisola Ojikuntu and Dr. Valerie Stone (both of whom are on AIDS Action’s Board of Directors), addresses the barriers that women of color face when accessing HIV/AIDS health care. It was developed with the participation of black women living with HIV/AIDS and includes activities known to be effective in reducing health disparities among HIV positive women including:

  • The use of highly trained peers as health navigators and members of the health care team, providing support to women who have been diagnosed but are not in care;
  • Access to services, such as housing assistance, mental health counseling, and case management;
  • Improved health literacy that helps to balance the power dynamic between medical professionals and patients resulting in improved provider/patient relationships.

The MALE Center

Fact: Between 2006 and 2009 (the last year for which statistics are available), young Black gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 29 accounted for more than one-quarter (27 percent) of all new HIV infections nationally.

The Queer Colors group for men of color who have sex with men (MSM) meets monthly at the AIDS Action Committee’s MALE Center. Members meet with other gay, bi-sexual, and MSM of color to build on shared experiences and continue to make an impact within their communities. Discussions include the unique issues MSM of color face and some of the strategies and solutions that others within the group have used to be more open about their HIV status with their families, church communities, and friends. Special guests who have spoken to the group include Phil Wilson, Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, and prolific author Kai Wright.

In addition, a multi-year grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation has helped to strengthen community-based networks for HIV-positive Black/African American men, with a goal to reduce the numbers of Black/African American men aged 15-45 who are HIV positive but delay access to health care. The “We’re Still Here” group that emerged from this program stages public events that raise public awareness about HIV among Black gay and bisexual men and work to identify needed community-level changes. To date, four “We’re Still Here” community forums have attracted nearly 100 participants who range from elected officials to community members to health care providers.

Below is the demographic profile of clients we serve who are living with HIV/AIDs.

Aids Action Client Served Number of Clients Served Percentage
Black 938 39%
White 920 37.91%
Other 252 10.38%
Unknown/Unreported 241 9.93%
Asian 20 0.82%
Portuguese 20 0.82%
Native American 17 0.70%
Brazilian 13 0.54$
Arab 3 0.12%
Indian from India 2 0.08%
Native Hawaiian/Pacific 1 0.04%


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