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Why Are Black Gay/Bi Men Falling Behind In HIV Treatment?

Black gay men are more likely to use condoms and have fewer sexual partners than their white counterparts.

A study from the CDC finds that HIV-positive gay and bisexual men are receiving treatments more quickly and consistently, black MSM are less likely to receive antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The number of gay/bi men receiving ART increased from 69% in 2008 to 88% in 2014, but the percentage of white men in treatment was 9% higher than African-American men.

According to Reuters, black men are being linked to care at around the same rate as white men, but they’re not receiving equal access to ART.

In 2016 the CDC estimated nearly half of all black men who have sex with men will be diagnosed with HIV, compared to one in 11 white MSM. Gay/bi black men are six times more likely to have an undiagnosed HIV infection and 60% less likely to receive treatment.

With those alarming statistics, the questions remain: Why is there such a disparity and how do we close the gap?

The problem doesn’t seem to stem from riskier behavior: Studies actually found black gay men to be more likely to use condoms and to have fewer sexual partners than their white counterparts.

Instead, the discrepancy largely reflect barriers to good health care—from a lack of education and awareness to the ability to secure gainful employment and health insurance. And discrimination black men can experience at the doctor’s offices plays a role, as well.

Historical mistreatment—including the Tuskegee experiment—have led to systemic mistrust of the health care system among African-Americans: A survey of 544 black gay and bisexual men found nearly half didn’t trust health-care providers, and a third reporting they’d experienced stigma at due to their race or sexual orientation. Studies have even found doctors don’t treat pain in black patients as aggressively as they do in whites. (A University of Virginia study revealed many med students believed black men literally had thicker skin than whites.)

There are groups fighting the odds, though: Well Versed provides methods for black men and their health-care providers to push beyond discomfort to have open conversations about sexual health.

The Black AIDS Institute aims to stop the AIDS pandemic in communities of color by engaging and mobilizing black institutions and individuals.

“We do not have enough trained leaders or people who understand the science and have some type of credentials behind them,” says Quintin Stroud, a graduate of BAI’s African-American HIV University (AAHU) program.

He is working to spread hope to anyone newly diagnosed with HIV: “I tell them that they can live a long, productive life—and don’t give up on any of your dreams.”

Adam Salandra is a writer, performer and host in Los Angeles. When he's not covering the latest in pop culture, you can find him playing with his French Bulldog puppy or hovering over the table of food at any social gathering.
@adamsalandra