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New York, NY — This year, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (February 7) comes in the middle of a global pandemic that has exposed the U.S. health care system’s foundation of systemic inequity and institutional racism — including the often-deadly health-related hardships imposed on Black people as a result, especially in HIV prevention and care.

This Sunday and every day, Planned Parenthood reaffirms its commitment to provide high-quality HIV prevention and testing, as well as referrals to care for all people throughout the U.S., especially in the Black community, still the population hardest hit by HIV and AIDS. Throughout the pandemic, Planned Parenthood has continued to provide HIV services. From October 2019 through September 2020, Planned Parenthood health centers provided over 672,000 HIV tests and saw over 10,000 patients for PEP and PrEP services.

Statement from Sara C. Flowers, DrPH, vice president of education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“The ongoing pandemic has drastically changed the way Americans interact with — or choose not to interact with — the health care system. It’s important for people to understand that you can still get the care you need while reducing your risk of contracting COVID-19. We know that Black Americans are getting COVID-19 and dying from it at higher rates, and we know that your risk of serious illness increases if you are immunocompromised. This makes it especially important for people to know their HIV status, so that they can continue to protect themselves or get the treatment they need if they’re living with HIV.”

The COVID-19 pandemic — combined with existing racism-driven barriers to health care and HIV stigma — has created an especially dangerous set of challenges for people at risk for HIV, those living with HIV, and the doctors and nurses who offer HIV services. For example, people taking PrEP for HIV prevention may find it more difficult to get routine care, as the pandemic forces many health facilities to cut or deprioritize services, operate with fewer staff members, and shift priorities to focus on COVID-related activities. The state of health care access, worsened by a legacy of racial injustice, has added renewed urgency to Planned Parenthood’s HIV prevention and testing efforts: Barriers to care mean Black people are more likely to get sick and die from COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people. That risk is heightened for immunocompromised populations — such as people in the U.S. living with HIV, 40% of whom are Black.

Centuries of structural racism in the U.S., have forced Black people to endure long standing social and economic barriers to accessible, quality health care, including sexual and reproductive care. These health care inequities contribute to a myriad of harmful patterns such as higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among Black people, including HIV.

  • Data show that Black Americans still make up a disproportionate number of HIV diagnoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black Americans represented 13% of the US population in 2018 but accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses.
  • Many Americans, and Black Americans specifically, are living with HIV and don’t know it. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 85% of Black Americans with HIV have been diagnosed.

Planned Parenthood’s HIV Prevention Initiative was created in partnership with the Black AIDS Institute (BAI), a national organization working to stop the HIV epidemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black institutions and individuals. Over the past few years, the partnership has continued to inform HIV prevention efforts. In 2018, Planned Parenthood Federation of America received a grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc., to launch the second phase of the HIV Prevention Initiative. In partnership with BAI and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Planned Parenthood conducted a qualitative research study to better understand the experiences of more than 50 Black cisgender and transgender women across eight states. The research demonstrated that continuing to destigmatize and dispel myths about HIV helps to facilitate more open discussions about HIV prevention methods. This information has enabled our Planned Parenthood health center staff to continue providing HIV prevention, testing, and education for patients in compassionate, non-judgmental ways.

Through the expansion of HIV prevention efforts and partnerships, Planned Parenthood aims to destigmatize HIV overall and in Black communities specifically. Stigma contributes to transmission of HIV between partners because people are less likely to know their HIV status; less likely to be on an effective preventive treatment like PrEP that makes transmission unlikely or impossible; and less likely to get consistent, lifesaving treatment if they are living with HIV. Planned Parenthood health centers are proud to offer PrEP and PEP services, as well as HIV and sex education, to destigmatize HIV testing, prevention, and treatment.

With proper treatment and viral suppression, people living with HIV can live long, full, healthy lives without the fear of passing HIV on to their partners. Planned Parenthood will continue to support patients with prevention, testing, education, and referrals to high-quality HIV care and case management when needed, while working with partners like the Black AIDS Institute to further this necessary work.

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Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.