Black colleges in Alabama forced to confront HIV
A study documenting a disproportionate number of HIV infections among African-Americans attending North Carolina universities has prompted Alabama's historically black colleges to more openly address the disease. In 2002, North Carolina initiated a method of detecting early HIV infections among those who voluntarily tested at public clinics. The effort discovered 84 newly infected male college students, 73 of whom were African-American. Researchers said it was the first documented HIV outbreak on U.S. college campuses.
According to researchers, a major cause of increasing HIV infections is young African-American men who are having unprotected sex with other men but who do not self-identify as gay or bisexual. In the North Carolina study, 67 of the black men with HIV reported sex with men, and 27 of those also had female sex partners.
Alabama health officials said they are devising an early detection program but currently do not have much data on the number of HIV-infected African-American male college students.
Mary Morris Billings, director of Alabama A&M University's counseling and development office in Huntsville, said she worries that an increase like that in North Carolina could happen there, and her office has recently stepped up awareness through seminars and workshops. Montgomery's Alabama State University is holding educational programs and provides condoms upon request. Both ASU and AA&MU offer free, confidential HIV antibody testing. At Troy University, the African-American Alliance and the university chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists have teamed up to bring in health professionals for HIV screening and education efforts.
African-American males represent 43.8% of Alabama HIV infections, and sex with men was determined as the highest risk factor for contracting the virus. (AP)