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More support sought for black AIDS summit


(CNN) -- Blacks in the United States often bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to chronic disease. And when the disease is AIDS, the burden is even heavier, according to activists taking part in a summit meeting on HIV and AIDS.

"We are in epidemic here," said Debra Frasier-Howe, president of the New York-based National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. "We need to build the capacity of all segments of our community -- advocates and agencies -- to build a base of service support."

Frasier-Howe joined former New York Mayor David Dinkins; Caya Lewis, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's health division; and representatives of various government, community and faith-based initiatives at the summit. The meeting, which took place last week in St. Petersburg, Florida, was one of a series of regional sessions. A similar meeting was held last year in Short Hills, New Jersey.

"The focus of our meeting last spring was to identify barriers and define the essential elements of effective programs to stem the tide of HIV," conference moderator Dr. Beny Primm, board chairman of the National Minority AIDS Council, said in a statement. "This meeting facilitated the exchange of tactics proven to mobilize at-risk individuals into HIV testing and treatment."

Ed Dixon, a lawyer who is project director for the Memphis, Tennessee, affiliate of the Congress of National Black Churches, called AIDS "one of the biggest health problems in the world, and in the African-American community in particular."

A recent survey of young adults in six U.S. cities found that while an astonishing 30 percent of gay black men aged 23 to 29 were HIV-positive, less than one third of them knew it.

"We believe that 60 percent of new HIV infections are occurring in black communities," A. Cornelius Baker said last month when the Atlanta, Georgia-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study was released.

While reasons vary, societal and cultural norms within the black community play a part, explained Baker, who is executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington. Church and family have a strong pull, and much of what they teach make a gay man's lifestyle taboo.

"There are a lot of people who do have girlfriends -- who do have wives -- and then have a secretive sexual life beyond that," he said.

The CDC has estimated that 1 in 50 black men and 1 in 160 black women is infected with HIV, making them 10 times more likely than whites to be diagnosed with AIDS and 10 times more likely to die from it.

New AIDS infections also are increasing among drug users and women over the age of 50, said Frasier-Howe.

"The biggest crying need is long-term sustained resource development," she said. "We need to put monies into programs that work and we need to monitor those programs and get them moving."

Also needed is a move toward aggressive funding of "institutions like the black churches," Frasier-Howe continued. "These community-based organizations were in the community long before AIDS, and will be there long after."

Activists who took part in the three-day conference sponsored by pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline said decisive action is necessary to avoid the kind of devastation now being seen in South Africa.

"It is only in America that this epidemic presented itself first in the homosexual community," said Frasier-Howe, calling for immediate investment in initiatives to increase AIDS-education and treatment, particularly among African Americans.

She said many blacks in the United States today "live in Third World conditions" and need basic services. AIDS, Frasier-Howe added, is just the newest threat.

The St. Petersburg meeting included workshops on funding resources and networking opportunities for AIDS-related agencies.

CNN Senior Medical Producer Christy Feig contributed to this report.

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African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute
National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Congressional Black Caucus
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Urban Resource Institute
Congress of National Black Churches

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