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We Can't End the HIV Crisis Unless We Get Serious About Sexual Health in Prisons

If the US wants to take the crisis of HIV in African American communities seriously, researchers and HIV advocates say they must treat prisoners with the same time-tested health practices that are used on the outside.

by Peter Moskowitz
Apr 26 2017, 9:00pm

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV diagnoses dropped by 19 percent from 2005 to 2014. The statistics suggest education, condoms, and PrEP (a pill that, when taken properly, reduces the risk of HIV infection by over 90 percent) have worked to prevent the spread of the virus. A closer look at the numbers, though, reveal a troubling trend: While diagnoses for all gay and bisexual men increased slightly by six percent, they skyrocketed by 87 percent for African American and Latino gay and bisexual men. Although diagnoses fell for all women, rates of transmission for African American women remained several times higher than rates for white women. In 2014, African Americans received 44 percent of new HIV diagnosis.

Researchers have pinpointed several reasons for the disparity, namely a lack of access to services that provide education and STI prevention materials in poor, black neighborhoods. Increasingly, researchers and HIV advocates are also singling out another potential cause of transmission: incarceration. A growing body of research suggests that prison and jails can be some of the biggest risk factors in HIV transmission, and that's led some researchers to ask why jails' and prisons' federal, state, and county-level administrators aren't doing more to stop the virus's spread.

"HIV prevention in prisons and especially in jails, is egregious," says Jason Lydon, the community minister of Black and Pink, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ prisoners. "The refusal to give prisoners PrEP or condoms, it's a human rights violation."

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