Each year on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day, our Nation reflects on the devastating impact HIV/AIDS continues to have on African Americans and renews its commitment to a world without AIDS
Today we are unfortunately still far from that goal. By the end of 2002, an estimated 185,080 African Americans had died from AIDS, accounting for 37 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in the United States. Despite the fact that African Americans account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, more than 50 percent of all AIDS cases in 2002 in the United States were among African Americans.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and our colleagues around the world are working to find new and better drugs and the best possible combinations of existing drugs to treat those already infected with HIV. But treatment is not a cure, and even those receiving treatment are still able to pass HIV to others.
Although there is no vaccine to prevent HIV infection, considerable effort is being directed toward the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine. More than 20 candidate preventive HIV vaccines are being tested in clinical trials in the United States and worldwide. We do not know if any of these vaccine candidates will work until we test them, and we will not know if they work for everyone unless diverse populations, including African Americans, participate in these and future trials.
While participants in AIDS clinical trials are much more diverse than they were early in the epidemic, we need to increase our enrollment of individuals from minority groups in clinical trials. Overall, in both prevention and treatment clinical trials, minorities represent just over 30 percent of all trial participants, despite the fact that more than 65 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. occur in minorities. In the only Phase III preventive HIV vaccine clinical trial conducted so far in the United States, fewer than 10 percent of the participants were African American.
Just as important as having African Americans participate as trial volunteers is having African American investigators conduct the research to find a vaccine and a cure. To put it simply, if we are to end the HIV pandemic in African Americans, African Americans must continue to be part of the solution, as clinicians, prevention providers, treatment advocates, researchers, and as HIV therapeutic and preventive vaccine clinical trial volunteers.
Every National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day is an opportunity to educate our communities about progress in prevention, care and treatment, and the need for a vaccine; however, these efforts should take place not only on this day. To those who already are involved in the struggle to end the AIDS pandemic: Be proud of yourselves, and share information about what you are doing with others. Strong role models are an important source for education and hope.
Today is not only a day to remember the past but also a day to renew our passion to save lives and strengthen our determination to find solutions through research.
Dr. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The National Institutes of Health is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
For more information on HIV vaccine research, please visit: http://www.niaid.nih.gov.