Concern grows over spread of HIV
by bisexual black men
BY LINDA VILLAROSA The New York Times: April 5, 2004
HOUSTON - Once a week the five friends get together to eat
sushi, sip wine and talk. But one recent afternoon, the women chose a
different activity: They went to see “Not a Day Goes By,” a
musical about black men on the “down low”
To these women, it was a subject of increasing urgency.
“Once I found out how prevalent the down low was in our
community, I was very afraid,” said one of the women, Tracy Scott, 37.
Her friend Misha King, 35, said she needed to get as much
information as she could, as quickly as she could. Now, she says, “I
treat every man as a bisexual because I don't want to end up as the
sister with HIV”.
In the past, concern about black women and AIDS was mainly
directed to those who had used drugs or had had sex with known drug
users. But increasingly, women such as Scott and her friends have begun
to worry, too.
In government studies of 29 states, a black woman was 23 times
more likely to be infected with HIV than a white woman, and black women
accounted for 71.8 percent of new HIV cases in women from 1999 to 2002.
Though new infections of HIV among black women have remained stable in
the past few years, the number of those who have been infected through
heterosexual sex has risen.
In 2001, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit
organization focusing on health issues, an estimated 67 percent of
black women with AIDS contracted HIV through heterosexual sex, compared
with 58 percent four years earlier.
Black women accounted for half of all HIV infections acquired
through heterosexual sex in men or women from 1999 to 2002, the federal
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
rate of heterosexual transmission has risen for all women,
researchers say a black woman has a greater chance of coming into
contact with the virus when she has sex with another black person
because, compared with the population at large, there is more HIV in
the smaller population of black Americans.
Recent studies suggest that 30 percent of all black bisexual men
may be infected with HIV, and up to 90 percent of those men do not
know. CDC researchers have referred to these men as a “bridge” to
infection from gay men to heterosexual women.
In February, health officials identified a fast-spreading
outbreak of HIV infections among 84 men, primarily black students at 37
colleges in North Carolina. The majority were infected through sex with
other men, but a third reported they had had sex with men and women.
“What we learned from the research we did with college men here
is the potential for HIV to enter the mainstream population of the
black community,” said Dr. Peter Leone, medical director of the North
Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, who is working on
prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases and co-author of a
study of the 84 men.
“This is a big change and maybe a defining moment,” Leone added.
“I don't mean to sound like Chicken Little, but if we don't react to
this very quickly and aggressively, it'll be like the '80s all over
again. Instead of gay white men, though, we'll be dealing with large
numbers of young black men and their female partners.”
prevention efforts have generally focused on drug users and men who
have sex with men. But the North Carolina findings among college men
made it clear that HIV had the potential to spread to a wider circle of
black Americans. In particular, the new research has alarmed
many black women, who are trying to piece together information to
figure out if men may have secret lives that are putting them at risk.
who, while not calling
themselves gay or bisexual, have sex with other men, often behind the
backs of their wives and girlfriends.