A group of local activists and ministers are pushing for President Barack Obama to declare HIV/AIDS a public health emergency in African-American communities. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
Former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields is no longer in the political arena, but she finds herself at the center of a public health crisis. She is the president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and says the virus is killing black Americans at an alarming rate.
"I wanted to be a part of seeing how we can bring more awareness and attention as to what is happening in the black community, help move people from this state of complacency of believing that it's no longer a problem, they no longer have to be concerned," said Fields.
But the latest Centers for Disease Control statistics are of great concern to many.
African-Americans account for 45 percent, almost half, of new HIV infections. HIV related deaths are also highest among blacks and is the fourth leading cause of death for black men and third for black women.
"This is more dangerous than the swine flu and I hope that the country will recognize that if we can solve this, then we can move forward in addressing other health disparities," said Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts, chairman of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.
Both Butts and Fields are behind new legislation which, for the first time, specifically addresses AIDS in the African-American community.
H.R. 1964, which is sponsored by Harlem congressman Charlie Rangel, calls on President Obama to declare HIV/AIDS an epidemic in the black community, directs the department of Health and Human Services to provide funds for outreach and testing, and requires a comprehensive study to explain factors that lead to higher rates of HIV and AIDS among black Americans.
"African-Americans are not being tested, they are not becoming aware of their status until it's full blown AIDS," said Fields.
"If we don't do something soon, this pandemic could be compared to some kind of genocidal activity because it's wiping out a generation of people," said Butts.
As the legislation makes it way through congress, Fields is busy sounding the alarm. She is frantically trying to raise awareness about an epidemic that is taking a huge toll, not only in New York, but coast to coast.
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