Inequality in AIDS

African American Inequality
April 23rd, 2018

Problems enabling AIDS in the African American Community

African Americans have been and continue to be overrepresented in the HIV/AIDS epedmic. Currently, African Americans only account for roughly 12 percent of the United States population but 43 percent of the population is affected by AIDS. This statistic alone is enough to show that there is a big problem within the African American community. Black people are 10 times more likely to have AIDS than whites(  With many medical and technological advances the number of cases and deaths of HIV/AIDS should be decreasing. For the African American community, it hasn’t decreased nearly as much as other races.  While AIDS deaths among whites fell by 19% from 2000 to 2004, they declined only 7% among African Americans (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2006). This raises the obvious question, why is AIDS affecting the African American community the most and why is it not improving?

A graph representing the overall population of races and then the population of races who have contracted HIV/AIDS. There is a disproportionate percentage in these two categories. Photo from

The Problems

One of the reasons for AIDS affecting the African American community is poverty. Unable to afford additional healthcare while having children, a job, food, school, and rent there is little time or money to prevent against HIV/AIDS. In 2010 African Americans led the nation with 27.4 percent of the population living in poverty, over one of every four people (State of Working America). Often living in poverty means lack of education, lack of access to healthcare, increased risk of substance use and homelessness, and increased likelihood of engaging in sex work as a source of income. All are factors that can increase the risk of acquiring HIV. For those living in poverty who become HIV-positive, priorities do not change. Their concerns on a day-to-day basis are finding and maintaining income, keeping food on the table, and ensuring a place to sleep at night(

A picture that shows over 350,000 people now being treated for HIV/AIDS. A number that African Americans may not be able to or are not aware to be a part of. Photo from

Living in poverty also leads to the second problem, incarceration. Incarceration is one of the most important drivers of HIV infection among African Americans. In addition to in-prison HIV risk behavior, such as unprotected sex and injection drug use, formerly incarcerated persons play a big role in transmitting HIV to others following their release from prison or in between periods of incarceration. This is because infectious diseases are highly concentrated in corrections facilities: 15% of jail inmates and 22% of prisoners – compared to 5% of the general population – reported ever having tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS, or other STDs(NAACP).

Life does not get easier after incarceration as most jobs will not accept you to be employed. A criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent. The negative impact of a criminal record is twice as large for African American applicants(NAACP). This causes one to fall back into a life of poverty, drugs and crime, further increasing the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS.  In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population and are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites. The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women(NAACP). These two issues cause a devastating cycle to the African American community as these issues go hand in hand and both lead to an increased chance of HIV/AIDS.

Picture depicting the mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States. These numbers are disproportionate to other races and are a reason for the spread of AIDS within that community. Photo by The Cornell Daily Sun.

Another reason for a high HIV/AIDS rate is the issue of drugs. Drug use is a particularly important risk factor for HIV infection among African Americans and Hispanics. Injection drug use accounts for more than 19% of new African-American HIV infections in this country (CDC, 2006). HIV infection associated with injection drug use was 2.4 times more prevalent among African Americans , respectively, than whites living with HIV/AIDS in the United States in 2004. In major cities poverty drugs and incarceration go hand in hand. Education on cleaning needles is not cared for or learned by much of the population. In a study of more than 8,000 patients in six cities by ME Betz and colleagues found that African-American women accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of AIDS-defining illness hospitalizations among women. Moreover, African Americans were more likely to be hospitalized with co- morbid mental health conditions than whites. They conclude:“These results emphasize the significant burden of co-morbid disease resulting from drug and alcohol use by adults infected with HIV, and support previous findings of an increased prevalence of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders among individuals with HIV” (Betz, Gabo and Barber, 2005).

An image showing one of the leading spreads of HIV/AIDS within the African American community. Photo by

The last and most unknown reason for a disparity in the African American community in regards to AIDS is limited sexual networks. While interracial dating continues to be on the rise in the United States, black people remain the minority group that has relationships outside of their race the least at 19 percent. This means that the majority of black people have sexual partners who are also black. Since African Americans are the biggest group affected by AIDS and are so close knit it was inevitable that once the black community was exposed to HIV it spread quicker and the negative impact was and continues to be greater. This means that black people who choose other black partners are more likely to come in contact with someone who is HIV-positive than other people who date within their race. This is especially true in LGBT communities as the CDC has reported that more than 1 in 4 black gay and bisexual men and 1 in 2 black transgender women are testing positive for HIV.

Dating within the Black community is very common and leads to a faster spread of HIV/AIDS with untested and unprotected sex. Within the LGBT community especially there is a greater chance of contracted HIV/AIDS.

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