HIV epidemic still disproportionately affecting Black, Latinx gay & bisexual men, CDC says

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Despite medical breakthroughs in prevention and treatment, the HIV epidemic is still disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx gay and bisexual men, a new CDC report finds.

"The first CDC report showing that AIDS was disproportionately affecting Black and Hispanic Latino people was published in 1986. Today's Vital Signs report confirms that, unfortunately, those disparities continue today," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

The new findings released by the CDC ahead of World AIDS Day show newly diagnosed HIV infections declined in white gay and bisexual men from 2010 to 2019, but remained steady for Black and Latinx gay and bisexual men.

"It is in alignment in terms of what we have been seeing in person in the clinic in terms of diagnosing people," said Reina Hernandez, San Francisco AIDS Foundation associate director of PrEP and HIV services.

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Hernandez said the Magnet sexual health clinic in San Francisco's Castro saw a major decline in all HIV testing in early 2020 during COVID-related shelter in place orders.

The CDC Vital Signs report outlined lower rates of PrEP usage in BIPOC queer communities.

PrEP is the once daily pill used to prevent new HIV infections.

While only 42% of white gay bisexual men were on PrEP in 2017, only 31% of Hispanic/Latino and 27% of Black/African gay and bisexual men were on the life-saving pill.

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Hernandez says there needs to be a wider focus on equity in prevention.

"You can't have one clinic that has a health justice, racial equity lens all planning from the ground up--from the federal, state, and local levels--need to center Black folks, they all need to center undocumented immigrant folks. We don't see that right now," they said.

The CDC report pointed to homophobia and on-going stigmas around testing and treatment leading to few BIPOC men reaching undetectable status.

Undetectable status means an HIV positive person's viral load is so low the virus is untransmittable.

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An undetectable status is achieved through daily treatment and allows people living with HIV to have long, healthy lives.

2019 data from the CDC show only 62% of HIV-positive Black/African American men reached an undetectable viral load thru treatment, while 67% of Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men did, compared to 74% of white gay and bisexual men.

"We need to prioritize race in this fight in the way that we have around COVID and other health needs. If we don't do so, our goals and our objectives will not be met," said Hernandez.

CDC Director Walensky announced a $100 million increase in funding for the 2022 fiscal year that will help expand prevention and treatment strategies, with a focus on erasing inequity.

To read the entire Vital Signs CDC report visit here.

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