HIV/AIDS in the African- American Community: Changing Concerns, Changing Behaviors
Vickie M. Mays University of California, Los Angeles
Susan D. Cochran California State University Northridge, and Institute for Social Science Research, University of California, Los Angeles
For some time, the devastating impact of the HIV epidemic on the gay male community has been known. Yet it was not until almost 6 years into the epidemic that the research community first began disseminating statistics alerting the public to the havoc this disease would manifest among African Americans ( Bakeman , McCray, Lumb, Jackson, & Whitley, 1987; Centers for Disease Control, 1987; Friedman et al., 1987; Mays & Cochran, 1987). Using the Centers for Disease Control surveillance data, at that time we estimated that there was three times the risk for AIDS in African Americans as compared to Whites ( Mays & Cochran, 1987).
When AIDS first came to the attention of the medical community in 1981 ( Gottlieb et al., 1981), it was thought of as a disease of gay men. However, we now know that perception was wrong. HIV was already present in the inner city of the Black community in 1981 when gay men were first being diagnosed. We know because African-American children who were born in 1977 in New York City, who never received blood transfusions, never injected drugs, and never had sex had developed AIDS. Already, in 1977 their mothers were HIV infected. This is our most direct evidence (MMWR, September 30, 1988). We also know that incidence rates of pneumonia-related deaths among Black addicts in New York City at the time showed increases paralleling the increasing deaths due to AIDS in the gay male community of Manhattan (MMWR, September 30, 1988). Some of these addicts were probably dying of AIDS, though we will never know for certain ( Mays & Cochran, 1990).
Although the crisis for the African-American community may seem distant to those without direct ties to that community, the truth is that the HIV epidemic in