However, these individuals are not the only blacks who are getting the virus. It is not easy to explain is why AIDS is so widespread in the black community and it is even more difficult to categorize particular individuals. There is not one particular type of person or one specific place that is seen as the most important issue to look at where AIDS is considered. In Alameda County California, for example, 60% of the AIDS cases that are reported belong to black individuals (Whitaker, 2001). Officials in that County have actually declared a state of emergency so that they can address the issue and try to determine what it is that they need to do. These individuals, as well as doctors in the area, have indicated that middle-class individuals, those that are poor, young or old, can contract the disease, and that these distinctions are not relevant anymore (Whitaker, 2001).
Any individual who is sexually active is at risk for the disease and must know how to protect themselves. There are other reasons other than basic sexual activity that contribute to the AIDS virus as well. Intravenous drugs and homosexual activity, especially with more than one partner, has also spread HIV infections. Dirty needles that are used for intravenous drug use make up 35% of the AIDS infections in this country, and men who have become infected with the virus and then choose to have unprotected sexual relations with both other men and with women are also helping to spread the disease to communities that previously saw little of it (Whitaker, 2001).
It is somewhat difficult to chart the reasons for AIDS infections in black communities because the relationships in these communities are often tangled and rather complex. It is a much different problem that it was when homosexual white males were the only ones who basically contracted the disease. It is largely difficult to lump many of the causes of AIDS in black America into one or two particular areas based on the fact that many individuals who might have unprotected sexual relations with an individual of the same-sex, such as in prison, do not consider themselves gay or bisexual (Whitaker, 2001). However, these individuals contract the virus at a much higher rate and when they spread it to other individuals it is often without knowledge that they have even contracted the disease.
The black AIDS epidemic is definitely growing in this country but what one thing has actually made it occur so strongly is hard to define. Unfortunately, despite the painful and debilitating effects that AIDS has not only on the individual who contracts it but on the family, the economies, and the communities, it is also obvious that preventing and treating it has not been things that have largely been discussed in black communities (Whitaker, 2001). Many individuals are ashamed or embarrassed if they have contracted the disease or if they think that they might have contracted the disease. It would seem that most believe that going to a doctor and being tested for AIDS implies some kind of an inappropriate behavior on the part of the individual (Whitaker, 2001).
However, this is not always true and some individuals may wish to be tested based on the fact that they believe a partner has cheated and possibly has contracted the virus. There are many reasons why individuals would want to be tested and there are many relatively innocent individuals who receive the disease from others in various ways even when they assumed that the other individual was safe and healthy. Since AIDS takes some time to show up and make the body sick, someone can contract the disease several years prior to actually showing any symptoms (Whitaker, 2001). If this individual is promiscuous during that time it is quite possible that he or she will spread the AIDS virus to a great many individuals before realizing that he or she has the virus.
Discrimination against homosexual individuals is another reason why many people choose not to seek treatment or prevention strategies for the AIDS virus (Whitaker, 2001). Most of these individuals feel that they already are stigmatized by their sexual orientation and the lifestyle that they have chosen, and because of this they choose not to seek treatment or make known in the way the feelings and the concerns that they have. Black communities that are going to protect themselves and make themselves whole again must not stigmatize these individuals based on their sexual orientation or they will continue to avoid seeking help and continue to spread the disease to others (Whitaker, 2001). Talking about birth control is another issue that most individuals feel uncomfortable with and this is contributing to the amount of AIDS cases in black communities (Whitaker, 2001).
Communities are being virtually wiped out in some areas because of the spread of AIDS and individuals who are willing to be open and honest about birth control options and their concerns about health and safety would not likely contract AIDS or spread it to others (Whitaker, 2001). There has been little awareness in many black communities on the subject of AIDS and much of this has to do with the fact that messages about prevention and treatment were originally geared toward homosexual white men (Whitaker, 2001). They were not really relevant to black individuals and their cultural sensitivity was geared only toward white men. Without being culturally relevant, programs such as AIDS prevention and treatment cannot work in black communities (Whitaker, 2001).
This is part of the reason that schools and educators can teach many of these individuals safety and prevention measures to avoid contracting the AIDS virus. The prevention messages that have been created by the government have been helpful to the homosexual white community and the rise of AIDS in that community has rapidly diminished (Whitaker, 2001). Unfortunately, because of cultural issues and feelings that black individuals have the governmental messages were not relevant.
The government has not changed its messages about AIDS to be culturally relevant to black individuals and therefore the problem has largely been ignored when it comes to these communities (Whitaker, 2001). Some effort is being made by the government, however, and a new campaign dealing with AIDS is utilizing black leaders from not only this country but throughout the world to help with the development of activities and programs that work to show the impact that AIDS is having on the black community (Whitaker, 2001).
However, most of these informational techniques have not yet caught on and therefore there is still a great deal of difficulty helping black individuals to realize the consequences of many of their actions and to avoid getting the AIDS virus. There is also much that the black community can do to help themselves. There is a lot of stigma associated with AIDS, and many black individuals are very afraid of that stigma (Whitaker, 2001). This is a fear that black communities must get over if they are going to survive and be productive in the future, and if they are going to avoid the pain that AIDS has recently been causing in many of their communities (Whitaker, 2001).
One of the ways that they can do this is by being more open to discussing getting tested for AIDS and using condoms and other preventative measures to avoid getting the disease (Whitaker, 2001). While these types of measures are not a guarantee that someone will not receive the AIDS virus, they are much better than using nothing at all and greatly reduce the risks that an individual takes during sexual activity (Whitaker, 2001). Drug users naturally should not be engaging in this type of activity, but for those who will continue to do so, they must be taught not to share needles as this is one of the other important ways that the AIDS virus is spread (Whitaker, 2001). By doing these simple things and mostly by being willing to discuss the issues and dealing with them as they arise, the black community can go far in stopping the AIDS epidemic that is currently ravaging it (Whitaker, 2001).
Although it would appear that the government in general is doing little to help black communities from being completely decimated by the AIDS virus, there are some AIDS prevention measures that are being undertaken by some areas of the government that may apply to black individuals (Chesney, 1993). In general, however, most of the information given is not culture specific and therefore will not apply well to black individuals and their cultural beliefs and feelings (Chesney, 1993). However, some of this information is important here because it indicates what makes an AIDS prevention program successful and may be helpful to educators in the future as they work toward finding various ways of prevention.
Successful programs must have a great many things, but one of the most important ones they must have is cultural competency (Kelly,…