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Public Statements - New Strategy Urged as HIV Rates Rise for Black Women, South

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U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and Barbara Lee are urging the White House to step up the AIDS fight as HIV rates rise in the South and among women, particularly African-American women.

Black women make up 66 percent of all new HIV infections among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Johnson and Lee's letter, co-signed by 50 colleagues, urged the administration to develop and support specific approaches to reduce new HIV cases, increase access to care, and reduce health disparities in Southern states, including addressing underlying structural and social factors contributing to the spread of HIV.

"Black women are getting sick and dying at an outrageous rate, while resources for treatment and prevention are totally inadequate -- especially in the South," Johnson said in a June 5 statement. "This epidemic needs urgent attention at the highest levels."

Johnson represents Georgia's 4th Congressional District, which includes portions of DeKalb County.

Lee, co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, said new approaches are needed to curb the infection rate.

"While we have made tremendous progress, make no mistake -- HIV/AIDS is devastating communities of color, women, and young gay and bisexual men in the U.S. If we are going to truly end the AIDS epidemic in this country, we must address the underlying issues of race, education, sex, poverty and stigma, which continue to fuel the spread of HIV in certain communities," said Lee, who represents California's 9th District.

"Nowhere is this more critical than in the South, where HIV transmission is alarmingly high. Unless we stand up and fight for our right to live, our friends and family members, and our brothers and sisters, will continue to suffer and die because of this preventable and treatable disease."

The May 30 letter was addressed to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council. It commended the appointment of Dr. Grant Colfax as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

Reps. John Lewis, David Scott and Sanford Bishop of Georgia were among signatories.

A recent report on the epidemic in the South found that among people living with HIV, nine of the 10 states with the highest HIV case fatality rates were in the South and women of color have been found to be less likely than men and white women to start antiretroviral therapy. Nine of the top 10 metro areas with the highest HIV prevalence in 2009 were in the South with black women representing 71 percent of new diagnoses, according to the letter. It said that 92 percent of people on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program waiting lists live in the South.

To view the complete letter, visit

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