U.S. prisons should make condoms available to inmates and test for HIV as part of a broader effort to curb the spread of AIDS among blacks, hit disproportionately hard by the incurable disease, experts urged Thursday.
The National Minority AIDS Council advocacy group, backed by U.S. black lawmakers and medical leaders, issued a series of recommendations aimed at U.S. policymakers to slow the epidemic among blacks, 10 times more likely than whites to have AIDS.
“In 2006, AIDS in America is a black disease,” said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles.
With U.S. black men seven times more likely than whites and three times more likely than Latinos to be imprisoned, the council’s report said incarceration has become “one of the most important drivers of HIV infection among African-Americans.”
More than half of new U.S. HIV infections are in blacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, more than 40 percent of U.S. prisoners are black. The AIDS rate among prisoners is three times the rate in the general public.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, most often is spread through sexual contact or intravenous drug use.
Behavior like unprotected homosexual sex and injection drug use raises HIV infection risk in prisons, and the problem is compounded when black men infected in prison then transmit the virus to others after their release, the report stated.
The report urged prisons and jails to make available condoms, along with HIV prevention education programs.
Condoms banned in most prisons
It said condoms are banned or unavailable in 95 percent of U.S. prisons. It said state prisons in Mississippi and Vermont make condoms available, as do county jails in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“HIV transmission does indeed occur in prison,” said the report’s author, Robert Fullilove, professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia University in New York.
“We certainly need to have each of the prison systems think more thoroughly about the impact that failure to provide condoms can have if there’s significant (HIV) transmission within the walls of their facilities,” Fullilove added.
The report stated, “Nonprofit organizations, government and public health agencies must be allowed to discuss the relationship between substance abuse and HIV risk and to distribute condoms in prison facilities.”
The report also urged prisons to provide voluntary, routine HIV testing of inmates upon entry and release.
It also recommended that governments expand substance abuse prevention programs, drug treatment services and clean needle exchange programs to cut HIV infections caused by injection drug use.
Other recommendations included: expanding HIV prevention education programs, combating discrimination against homosexual and bisexual blacks and supporting more affordable housing to promote stable black communities.
CDC estimates that about 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV, with blacks making up 47 percent of them.
The HIV virus attacks the immune system and renders the body vulnerable to numerous life-threatening infections and cancers. About 40 percent of the roughly half million Americans who have died of AIDS were black.
The report cited several factors to account for AIDS hitting U.S. blacks hardest, including less access to medical insurance, distrust of the medical establishment and greater homelessness, drug use and levels of incarceration.