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U.S. HIV Cases Soaring Among Black Women

Social Factors Make Group Vulnerable

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2005; Page A01

He was, Precious Jackson said, a very fine black man. He was 6 feet 2 inches tall with an almond-milk complexion, dreamy dark eyes and a deep voice. During their nearly two years together in Los Angeles, he was the sunshine of her life, even though he had a habit of landing in jail and refused to use a condom when they made love.

"I didn't ask him any questions," Jackson said in a recent interview. "I didn't ask him about his sexual history. I asked him if he had been tested, and he said one test came back positive but another one came back negative. I was excited to have this man in my life, because I felt I needed this man to validate who I was."

_____Transcript_____
Barbara Chinn of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., discussed the growing HIV rate among black women.

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The man is now Jackson's ex-lover, but the two are forever attached by the AIDS virus she contracted from him, becoming, in the process, a part of the nation's fastest-growing group of people with HIV -- black women.

That development, epidemiologists say, is attributable to socioeconomic and demographic conditions specific to many African American communities. Black neighborhoods, they say, are more likely to be plagued by joblessness, poverty, drug use and a high ratio of women to men, a significant portion of whom cycle in and out of a prison system where the rate of HIV infection is estimated to be as much as 10 times higher than in the general population.

For black women, the result has been devastating, said Debra Fraser-Howze, founding president and CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.

"We should be very afraid," she said. "We should be afraid and we should be planning. What are we going to do when these women get sick? Most of these women don't even know they're HIV-positive. What are we going to do with these children? When women get sick, there is no one left to take care of the family."

In 2003, the rate of new AIDS cases for black women was 20 times that of white women and five times greater than the infection rate for Latinas, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black and Hispanic women accounted for 77 percent of all new AIDS infections in 1994. Nine years later, the rate was 85 percent, according to the agency.

That same year, black and Hispanic women made up 83 percent of reported AIDS diagnoses among women, although they represent only 25 percent of all women, according to Fraser-Howze's New York-based commission. AIDS is among the three top causes of death for black women ages 35 to 44.

In the District, black women represent 90 percent of women living with AIDS while making up only 62 percent of all women in the city, according to a report last year by the District's Health Department.

Fraser-Howze said the number of health facilities in black communities is inadequate when compared with the growing size of the problem. Official Washington has been slow to respond, said Fraser-Howze, a former member of the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS under President Bill Clinton.


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