Black women in Atlanta show surprising HIV rates

A new study has found HIV rates for black women in Atlanta and five other U.S. cities are higher than previously thought.

The study found that the HIV rate was 0.24 percent for the 2,099 women in its cohort. This is five times higher than the rate estimated for black women by the CDC.

HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, damages a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells that are important to help fight diseases. It is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, though not everyone with HIV develops the full-scale disease.

The CDC estimates that 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV.

The study, called the HPTN 064 Women’s HIV Seroincidence Study (ISIS), enrolled women, ages 18 to 44 years, from 10 community sites in six areas where HIV and poverty are common: Atlanta; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Newark, N.J.; and New York City.
Emory University served as the study site for Atlanta. With the help of community partners SisterLove, AID Atlanta, and Stand Inc., Emory enrolled 418 of the women in the study.

Women were enrolled if they had not had a prior positive HIV test.

Notably, the 0.24 percent rate in this study is comparable to the general HIV rates in sub-Saharan Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (0.28 percent) and Kenya (0.53 percent). HIV is a major public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa, and the study suggests that it remains a major health concern for certain subpopulations in the U.S.

“This study highlights the fact that HIV is still a problem in this country, particularly for those who are disproportionately impacted by the disease, including African-American women,’’ said one of the study’s principal investigators at Emory, Paula Frew, an assistant professor of medicine.

“Importantly, it draws attention to the disparities that cluster together – poverty, race, and illness – and that we as a society must address these issues together to alleviate the burden of HIV/AIDS in the future,” Frew said.

The women were interviewed about many aspects of their lives, including mental health, sexual behavior and financial insecurity. Frew said the investigators will also examine the non-HIV data collected.

Women were enrolled in the study between May 2009 and July 2010.

The ISIS study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health.

Deesha Patel is a second-year Master of Public Health student at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. She is interested in health journalism and medical writing as well as epidemiologic research.