Why Faith Based Communities Must Partner In The Fight Against Hiv By Chris Wade Director of Prevention Services, Central Illinois FRIENDS

Faith leaders understand broaching the subject of HIV and AIDS can be a hard conversation to have. And yet the reality is that whatever is in our communities is in our churches. Faith leaders serve a special role in the lives of parishioners; they fill a void that doctors or medical care alone cannot. Many of you are blessed to hold these influential roles and for this reason, each of you are the ideal candidate to educate and support your parishioners impacted by HIV and AIDS, both mentally and spiritually.

For centuries, Black Churches and faith leaders have been at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights, including voting rights and the right to a quality education. And we need the Black Church’s leadership for another adversary: HIV.

Our nation is facing an epidemic that is ravaging our Black community from coast to coast. Today, HIV affects African Americans more than any other racial or ethnic group in the country. Annual HIV transmissions and diagnoses have declined in recent years as have HIV-related deaths. But we still have important work to do that affects the lives of many Illinoisans.

CDC estimates that 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States. Among those, more than 470,000 are African Americans. This includes 74,100 who are unaware of their status and, thus, are at higher risk of illness and transmitting the virus. African Americans are 43% of all people living with HIV in the United States, though African Americans comprise 12% of the nation’s total population.

Illinois currently ranks 6th in the nation with HIV diagnoses among adults and adolescents (Kaiser Family Foundation). In Illinois, the estimated rate of new HIV transmissions among African-American men in Illinois, excluding Chicago, was more than ten times that of white men and more than double that of Hispanic men. The estimated rate of new HIV transmissions for African American women was more than 8 times that of Hispanic women and 14 times that of Caucasian women. (Source: Illinois Department of Public Health, HIV/AIDS Surveillance Unit. Data as of December 2017).

Overall, about one in 20 African-American men and one in 48 African-American women will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetimes; An estimated 56% of African American transgender women were living with HIV – the highest percentage among all transgender women; and 44 percent of all new HIV transmissions are among African Americans. This crisis is not just about public and community health: It’s about social justice and institutionalized racism.

The numbers are deeply disturbing but not surprising. Such is the scale of the epidemic that nearly all African Americans have a friend, family member, colleague or acquaintance that is impacted by HIV. I am no exception.

I ask our faith leaders in the African-American community and our allies to grasp this unique opportunity to have a significant, positive impact in the fight against HIV. We must break the silence about the dangers of HIV and the scope of the epidemic, educate our communities about prevention strategies and advocacy and stop the growth of this disease once and for all. With the commitment of our faith leaders, I believe this is a fight we can and will win.

If you are a leader of a faith-based organization in the Peoria and surrounding area and would like more information on what you can do to assist in our prevention efforts or Technical Assistance on how to use your platforms to encourage prevention interventions and increase sexual health screenings please give us a call @ Central Illinois FRIENDS (309) 671-2144 or reach out to me directly: chris.wade@centralillinoisfriends.org