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Blacks still in a World of Trouble on World AIDS Day
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 12/2/2005

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Zaibaa Mahbi, a 16-year-old senior at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., is walking down the street on her cell phone when she gets some shocking news.

“I’m just having fun, first of all. I’m out walking down the street and all that,” Mahbi recounts. “And I get a text message saying that my friend, one of my very close friends, went to a party and did something really stupid, got high and hooked up with some guy she hardly even knew and got the virus, HIV.”

She continues, “When you find out that someone close to you has AIDS…There’s anger somehow, anger at yourself and anger at that person, and you are so distraught because that one action led to that consequence and there’s no turning back.”

Fortunately, the street scene that Mahbi describes in an interview is not real, but a role she plays in a 60-second public service announcement that will begin airing across the country on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day 2005, an annual international day of action on HIV and AIDS.

“Basically what it’s trying to do is raise awareness and to help people to think before they act because people just follow their desires. They say, ‘I want to do it right now,’ but they don’t think about what could happen,” says Mahbi.

What is very real is the fact that Black teenage girls, the main target of the new PSA, are contracting HIV at alarming rates – in part – because of irresponsible sexual behavior after the use of drugs and alcohol, according to a report released this week from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the sponsor of the PSA.

“Although African-Americans ages 13-19 represent only 15 percent of U. S. teenagers, they accounted for 66 percent of new AIDS cases reported among teens in 2003,” states the report. “That’s 19 times the rate for White females and five times the rate for Hispanic females.”

The report continues, “Particular HIV risk behaviors of this group, including sexual experimentation and drug abuse, are often influenced by strong peer group relationships and diminished parental involvement that can occur during adolescence.”

The research report recommends drug addiction treatment, school and community-based outreach and testing and counseling for HIV as among the most effective ways to reduce the risky behavior for teens and adults.

It also recommends:

· Research to understand the factors leading to disparities in HIV infection and survival rates among racial and ethnic minorities, particularly among African-Americans, taking into account age, gender, education, sexual identity, geographic region, and socioeconomic status.

· Studies to recommend culturally sensitive protective factors and culturally sensitive prevention interventions.

· Scientific studies on how an individual's peers, relationships, social networks, and environment influence both drug abuse and sexual risk-taking.

“Three key findings inform our approach, linking the interactions of drug abuse and HIV/AIDS in ways that extend far beyond injection drug use,” the report states. “First, drug abuse impairs judgment and good decision making, leaving people more prone to engage in HIV risk behaviors, including risky sexual behavior and none adherence to HIV treatment. Second, drug abuse adversely affects health and may exacerbate disease progression. Third, and most important, because of these linkages, we must recognize that drug abuse treatment is HIV prevention.”

Cindy Miner, deputy director of the office of science policy at NIDA, stresses that the report is not just about needles.

“We’re talking about all drugs. Not just intravenous, but the use of alcohol and the use of other drugs that will cause kids to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do,” she says. “They can truly make poor decisions that lead to risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or probably do something or engage in these behaviors with somebody that they might otherwise wouldn’t. We need a lot of dialog centered around this problem, an area that has really been ignored.”

Intravenous drug users alongside male homosexuals have been among the highest risk categories for HIV/AIDS, but expanding the drug connection to risky behavior is relatively new, Miner points out.

“I think the people are talking about drugs. But, they’re not talking about the consequences of drugs and certainly one of the consequences is HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.”

The NIDA report, released at a Washington, D.C. press conference, comes on the heals of a recent announcement by the CDC that the number of newly-diagnosed HIV infections among African-Americans has declined an average of 5 percent a year for the past three years, although Blacks are still 40 percent of AIDS cases diagnosed while only 12.3 percent of the U. S. population.

The disproportionate number of Black teenagers and young adults with HIV is not new. According to CDC data reported through December 2001, African-Americans were the largest group of youth affected by HIV. They accounted for 56 percent of all HIV infections ever reported among those aged 13-24. But, it hasn’t been reported enough, the NID says.

The public service announcement, featuring two teenage actresses, Mahbi and Rebecca Hollingsworth, also a Duke Ellington student, will also be publicly aired on videos in some chain stores such as Circuit City, Best Buy, Cosco, and Sears in observance of World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day Observers will wear red ribbons to call attention to the pandemic of HIV/AIDS around the world.

Mahbi, 16. describes the PSA as an accurate depiction of real life and says she hopes teenagers will get the bottom line about HIV and apply it to themselves: “It’s not slowing down. It’s not stopping anywhere.”

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