I hope you all are adjusting back to reality?
So, in my last blog I said I was going to my play my own role in addressing health inequalities. In this blog I want to address a health disease that has caused the greatest pandemic of the century. It is one who’s impact makes the impact of COVID-19 on black people seem like child’s play.
It has affected 78 million people to date and claimed the lives of up to 40 million since it was ‘discovered’ in the early 80’s.1, 2 Its an unfortunate reality that globally black people account till this day for majority of people affected and deaths that have occurred as a result of HIV. Africa in particular has suffered greatly and continues to suffer from the effects of this pandemic. Its almost a miracle, but I guess more of a reflection of the endearing spirit of Africa that entire countries and communities were not wiped off the face of the continent as a result of HIV during its peak in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Of no doubt though, is the fact that it was another massive blow to the continents growth and development.
Moving across the Atlantic, we see a similar story. In the US, UK and several other countries across the Western World, you are more likely to get HIV if you’re Black. In the UK in particular, Black people account for almost 50% of people living with HIV.4 They are also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage further increasing their risks of associated diseases.4 Although much progress has been made in recent years with places like the UK starting to see a steady decrease in transmissions, there is still a long way to go. Almost 40 million people worldwide still have the disease, and Black people account for almost two thirds of this figure.1, 2 In addition, almost 2 million people are newly infected with the disease globally with majority of these infections happening amongst young black women aged 15 to 24.4
There are many reasons why black people are disproportionately affected ranging from the origins of HIV to present day racial disparities. HIV’s origins can be traced to colonial practices in Africa, where it is thought that locals fleeing forced labour in colonial regimes may have caught the disease whilst hunting in the forest.3 Further transmission may have occurred through medical programs using unsterilised needles for locals in colonial times.3 Spread further across the globe may have been due to an increase in international travel and globalization. Regardless of its origins, it remains a huge issue within the black community because it is closely linked to things like poverty, abusive relationships, polygamy, substance misuse, poor health literacy, stigma and discrimination.
It was the starkening realisation of the history and impact this disease has had on millions that led to my initial interest in HIV. It subsequently led to the establishment of an NGO in which I utilise my passion for sports as a health and social empowerment tool. These experiences, together with the challenges I’ve faced career wise has led me to establish a pharmacy with services that help prevent HIV, and support people living with long term diseases like HIV.
However, it doesn’t end there as people living with HIV are also more likely to develop many other diseases ranging from heart disease and diabetes to cancers and others. Now, when you consider that a significant proportion of people with HIV are of African descent, and that people of African descent are already at a higher risk of diseases such as hypertension and diabetes things you start to see that the odds aren’t great.
The solution? There is a strong argument to say more funds should be directed towards targeted preventative campaigns as well as measures and actions to improve the overall health and well-being of Blacks. Unfortunately you and I have little influence over such decisions. However, what you can do is play more attention to your general health and well- being by taking individual steps, and seeking additional support to implement changes where appropriate.
PS: In my coming blogs, I will be addressing a range of health issues pertinent to Black people and those living with HIV. Stay tuned for more!
Global Health Observatory Data, World Health Organisation (WHO). HIV/AIDS, Summary of the Global HIV Epidemic, 2018
UNAIDS. Global HIV and AIDS Statistics- 2019 Fact Sheet. https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet
Knox R. Global Health, 2006. Origin of AIDS Linked to Colonial Practices in Africa. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5450391&t=1591870150433
Avert. HIV and AIDS in the United Kingdom, 2017. https://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/western-central-europe-north-america/uk