March 5th, 2010
03:19 PM ET
By Caitlin Hagan
With social media you can invite friends to your birthday party, keep up with your favorite celebs, and figure out whom you're hanging out with tonight, all at the same time. But did you ever think you also could use social media to stay healthy and even HIV-free?
Now you can. "i know" is a new campaign just launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its goal is to create an open, frank conversation about the dangers of HIV, especially among African-African young adults. According to the most recent census data, nearly half of all new HIV infections contracted each year occur in African-Americans, with more than a third of those happening in teenagers as young as 13 to adults as old as 29.
"There is a sense of urgency that we have got to work with young people to bring this HIV epidemic to an end," says Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC's National Center of HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
And yet despite those statistics, HIV remains an undertalked about subject within the African-American community, in part because of a fear of disclosing promiscuous behavior or sexual orientation, says the CDC.
That’s something they hope their "i know" campaign will change. Jamie Foxx and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges have joined the campaign and a Web site, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed have been set up to help foster conversation.
"We can break the silence," says Foxx in a new "i know" public service announcement. "Talk about using condoms. Talk about getting tested."
In a sense, the campaign is racing against time. Not only do more African-American youth contract HIV than their White or Hispanic peers, they tend to be the most unaware of their HIV status. The CDC says the rate of undiagnosed HIV infection among blacks is nine times higher than among whites of the same age. As a result, many black young adults learn they're HIV positive well after they've been infected, when it may be too late to treated effectively. That delayed diagnosis has serious consequences: 20 percent of HIV positive black youth see their disease progress to AIDS within a year of their diagnosis compared with 14 percent of their White peers.
"The impact among young African-American adults has been devastating," says Foxx. "We need to do something, all of us, especially young people."
But although young African-American men have the highest rate of HIV infection among any other race or ethnicity, and young African-American women have higher infection rates than young women of other races, concerns about HIV within the African-American community have been declining. A Kaiser Family Foundation study from last year found that from 1997 to 2009, the number of young African-Americans who said they were "very concerned" about contracting HIV decreased 14 percent. Yet, according to the CDC, 63 percent of the youth who died from AIDS in 2006 were African-American.
"This is part of a wider trend," explains Fenton. "We have more effective treatments for HIV now...so the face of AIDS is no longer the death and desolation it was in the ‘80s."
"People feel like this is no longer a threat but the reality is, we're seeing higher and higher rates of HIV, particularly among the African-American community."
To become a part of the "i know" campaign, check out the Web site website [www.actagainstaids.org], Facebook page [www.facebook.com/iknow], Twitter feed [twitter.com/iknow_talkhiv] or sign up for regular text messaging from the campaign.
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