For black people who are HIV positive, the stigma associated with their condition can be painful. The consequences of this pain often include depression, substance abuse and even suicide attempts.
At the height of HIV and AIDS infections in the west, the stigma contributed to a lack of support and access to medical help for black people, according to findings reported by Jason Okundaye.
“Black people are generally often blamed for our own inequalities in sexual health through a long history of stereotyping us as hypersexual”, he continues.
He concludes that this kind of dehumanisation persists today. “It [stigma] functions as yet another social and institutional barrier to the appropriate conversations and medical treatment around sexual health.”
The stigma is so controlling that a black pastor buried his son, and did not share this news until much later that his child had died from HIV.
“He said, ‘I had to bury my baby and then grieve the truth by myself,’” the Rev. Keron Sadler shared with Healthline in an interview. “There’s a lot of pain out there.”
Sadler works as manager of health programs at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which in recent years has stepped up its fight against HIV. HIV impacts the African-American community more than any other broadly defined group besides gay men. Within the black community, men who have sex with both men and women are most affected.
Sadler said the pastor shared his story during a focus group she led. The NAACP began convening focus groups with faith leaders in a dozen cities in 2010, and the initiative has since been expanded to more cities.
“One pastor said he has buried more people with HIV than he has brought to Christ,” Sadler said.
The NAACP has previously helped black churches in communities from coast to coast get their congregations talking about an epidemic that still is largely off-limits in many black family living rooms.
According to Okundaye, there are already organisations in the UK committing to tackling sexual health inequalities. The Naz Project specialises in advocating for positive sexual health engagement within BME communities. It provides the vital mental health and community support needed alongside such projects.
Although we have come far in HIV prevention, there is a lot more to be done. The Public Health England released a report celebrating a 21% decline in new HIV cases in England in 2016 since the disease was first detected in the 80s.