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UNITED STATES:  Bias Behind Higher Rates of HIV in Black Gay Men?

A major focus of the fifth National African-American MSM Leadership Conference on HIV/AIDS, held Jan. 22-25 in Atlanta, was exploring the reasons for the community's high HIV rate. A 2005 CDC study of five US cities found that 46 percent of black men who have sex with men surveyed were HIV-positive, meaning they were almost twice as likely to be infected as other MSM.

"Gay black men are more likely to contract HIV than any other population in the country," said Caudie Grissom, a counselor with National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities (NAESM).

"We just have not been prioritized" among the populations the federal government serves, said Ernest Hopkins, vice-chair of the National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC). "That's due to homophobia and racism, just very clearly that's it."

"Most black gay men live in the same community they've always lived in," said Hopkins. "Everything has been focused on something that works in a community that is essentially gay, and we don't have an environment that is essentially gay."

Without a core geographic location, African-American MSM said it is more difficult to access medical care and learn about HIV prevention. Few organizations advocate for black gay men, and few studies focus on the group, though it has been overrepresented among those infected since the 1980s, said Cornelius Baker, national policy advisor for NBGMAC.

African American men can experience racial stress, sexual prejudice, promiscuity stereotypes, gender role expectations, and other pressures in the medical community, said Dr. David Malebranche of Emory University's School of Medicine. Poorer men especially face barriers to finding an empathetic doctor who understands their unique health risks, he noted.

Depression - experienced by 70 percent of African-American MSM at some point in their lives - can fuel HIV risk, and many men do not seek treatment for it, said Dr. Linda Smith of NAESM.

Source: Southern Voice (Atlanta):: Matt Schafer; Courtesy of the CDC National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention