Race, Health Care and the Law 
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The Changing Face of AIDS

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Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law and
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 Changed realities and perceptions in the second decade of AIDS resulted in more attention to the epidemic’s impact in communities of color both in the mainstream and in the African American community.  Many have argued that the early depiction of AIDS as a disease primarily affecting white homosexual men distorted the reality of AIDS transmission and contributed to the rise of AIDS among other groups who believed that they were not at risk for the disease (Cohen 1999; Schiller 1992; Shilts 1987). 

Yet a series of events in the 90s, all of which involved prominent African Americans, served to heighten awareness and combat old stereotypes about HIV/AIDS and its transmission in the African American community.  Star athlete Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s November 1991 announcement that he had tested positive for HIV during a routine physical exam was a shock to the black community (and many in White America as well).  As a result, more news stories focused on AIDS in the black community and more African Americans were made aware of their risk.  Another critical moment influencing African American perceptions of AIDS came in April 1992 when famed tennis champion Arthur Ashe announced that he had contracted AIDS from a 1983 blood transfusion during open-heart surgery.  Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia in February of 1993.  His struggle served to further educate the community about the epidemic.  Finally, the sudden death of popular rap star Eric “Eazy-E” Wright at the age of 31 from AIDS in March of 1995 served as a wake up call to younger African Americans who admired Wright and his music.  For many younger African Americans, Wright’s death smashed the long-held myth that heterosexuals were immune from contracting HIV and AIDS. 

            The rapidly escalating numbers of African Americans and Hispanics contracting HIV and AIDS would be another factor that heightened attention to what some in the popular media referred to as the “changing face” of AIDS.  The proportional distribution of African American AIDS cases reported by the CDC increased dramatically throughout much of the 90s with the proportion of blacks with AIDS surpassing that of whites by mid-decade.  By the end of the decade, African Americans and Hispanics made up more than half, 56 percent, of the total number of AIDS cases reported in the U.S.   In 2000 alone, African Americans represented almost half (47 percent) of all reported AIDS cases even though they remained only 12 percent of the population.

African Americans’ growing concerns were reflected in a 1998 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Their report, based on telephone interviews with 811 African American adults, found that a majority, 52 percent, considered AIDS the most urgent health problem facing the nation.  Forty-nine percent of the respondents indicated that they personally knew someone with HIV/AIDS or who has died from the disease.  A majority, 58 percent, also indicated that they believed the situation was a more urgent health problem than it was a few years ago.  Their responses lent qualitative weight to the CDC data on black infection rates and provided a clear indication that the African American community had finally awakened to the growing devastation wrought by AIDS.

            The increased impact of the epidemic in black and brown communities would prove a challenge for traditional community-based AIDS organizations unfamiliar with the unique needs of their newer clientele. 


Introduction - AIDS Pandemic
The Changing Face of AIDS
AIDS and Community Mobilization


Related Pages:
Home ] Up ] Introduction - AIDS Pandemic ] [ The Changing Face of AIDS ] AIDS and Community Mobilization ] LEANING ON THE 'CONSCIENCE OF THE CONGRESS' ] CONTINUED CHALLENGES IN THE THIRD DECADE ] Conclusion ]
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Home ] AIDS and Minorities ] Minorities and HIV ] HIV/AIDS: The Law, Minorities ] Issues for Elderly Persons Living with HIV/AIDS ] Access and AIDS/HIV Infection ] Drug Laws and AIDS ] AFRICAN AMERICANS CONFRONT A PANDEMIC- AIDS ]
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Professor Vernellia R. Randall
Institute on Race, Health Care and the Law
The University of Dayton School of Law
300 College Park 
Dayton, OH 45469-2772
Email: randall@udayton.edu


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