Barbara Lee Calls for National Commitment to End the AIDS Epidemic in Black America

(Washington, DC) – Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined representatives from the Black AIDS Institute for a press conference on Capitol Hill today for the release of the institute’s new report on the state of AIDS in Black America. The following is her statement (as prepared):

“Let me first begin by thanking Phill Wilson and the Black AIDS Institute for organizing this important press conference this morning.

“The Black AIDS Institute has long been a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS in our community. Their motto ‘Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution’ is a real testament to the fact that ultimately we can and we must control our own destiny when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

“I’m proud to join the Black AIDS Institute, The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, the Balm in Gilead and all my colleagues in calling for: a mass mobilization to end the AIDS epidemic; testing for one million African Americans by December 1, 2008; national AIDS plan for the United States; and to announce the release of a new report on the State of AIDS in Black America.

“As the new report from the Black AIDS Institute points out, among young people, among women, and among men, in the United States African Americans are the most at risk of getting infected with HIV, of developing AIDS, and of dying of this disease.

“The unfortunate reality is that to be black in America is to be at greater risk of HIV/AIDS.

“In my district in Alameda County over 6,800 cases of AIDS have been diagnosed since 1980, and nearly 4,000 people have died. Of those numbers African Americans represent well over 40 percent of the cumulative AIDS cases and AIDS deaths in the county. Latinos represent around 10 percent of all AIDS cases and about 9 percent of all deaths, and Asian Pacific Islanders represent about 3 percent of all AIDS cases.

“In 1998, after we saw the devastation that HIV/AIDS was causing, we became the first county in the nation to declare a State of Emergency in the African American community.

“Unfortunately we still have much to do, and that’s why we are here to today – to say enough is enough.

“As a community we must band together to take care of ourselves but also to make our voices heard and to demand action on the part of our government.

“Last August at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto I joined Julian Bond, the NAACP, the Black AIDS Institute, and many others in signing the National Call to Action and Declaration of Commitment to End the AIDS Epidemic in Black America. Together we all pledged to stand in solidarity and break the silence on HIV/AIDS in our community.

“Now we must follow through on this declaration.

“Already earlier this year, the House unanimously passed a resolution I authored in support of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

“Our next priority is to ensure that we fully fund the Ryan White CARE Act, and the Minority AIDS Initiative. We need to provide at least $610 million for the Minority AIDS Initiative this year.

“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee I’ve been working with my colleagues to ensure that we get the highest possible funding level as we complete our appropriations work for fiscal year 2008.

“At the same time we’ve also got to go further and get at the factors that are ultimately driving this epidemic among the African American community.

“Poverty and discrimination, lack of affordable housing, the disproportionate rates of incarceration among black men, poor access to care and limited cultural competency for health providers – all of these deserve our attention and deserve action.

“We can start to get at one of these factors by ending the head-in-the-sand approach to HIV prevention that is turning our prisons into a breeding ground for this disease.

“This week we will move one step closer to that goal by passing Maxine Waters’ bill, the Stop AIDS in Prisons Act.

“But we also need to pass my bill, H.R. 178 the JUSTICE Act, to allow condoms in our prisons and to demand accountability in stopping the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among incarcerated persons.

“While we must do our part in Congress by passing these bills, we’ve also got to work with advocates and health providers in the community to do the basics – raise awareness, get tested, and get active in our communities.

“The simplest thing that all of us can do is to get tested. When we get tested, we lead by example. That’s why last year I helped organize an HIV testing day where many of my colleagues in the CBC got publicly tested.

“It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s confidential, and all of us can do it.

“This is not an ideological issue. It is a moral and humanitarian call for equality and justice, and all of us must do our part.”