The Railroad: From science to delivery, freeing young black gay men from a tragic trajectory

March 25, 2016

Brandon Harrison is a New York City based HIV advocate and a graduate of 2014 class of the Black AIDS Institute’s African American HIV University. He has held positions at both Callen-Lorde and the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, providing technical assistance and support for community engagement and new HIV prevention methods.

In February at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data that suggest the lifetime risk of HIV diagnoses in all Americans is one in 78. More alarming than that, the analyst estimated that one in two or 50 percent of all black gay, bisexual and other same gender loving men are projected to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.

While we know this population and those of the trans-experience continue to have the highest new infection rates among all other populations, these new estimates have created a state of emergency among members and leaders of this community. This is a call for action. We must save ourselves, we can no longer sit back and watch our friends, family and community members fall victim to a new HIV diagnoses. It’s our responsibility to ensure that the black community is not without the knowledge and access to the proper prevention tools or understanding of antiretroviral medications.

Lack of education and access to healthcare, cultural trauma and stigma are all part of a vicious cycle that has caused not only HIV but other health and economic disparities to continue thriving in black communities. Researchers have worked hard to development major advances in preventing and treating HIV, but unless these discoveries are appropriately delivered and implemented among those who need them most, black communities will continue to be affected negatively, greater than our counterparts. It is ultimately our responsibility to take control of our health. As Black History Month has come to an end, I reflect on how much affliction our community has faced and overcome. HIV is just another one that we can fight.

As we continue fighting to end this epidemic among black communities, I have been honored to stand here at CROI thinking about the way the people inspire me with their breakthroughs. I reflect back on the Martin Delaney Panel Discussion, one of the early plenary sessions, that discussed the need to engage men of color in clinical research. I felt the passion and heart from this session was an answer to so many pieces about the other things that act as barriers in the lives of men of color. I look at this conference and the science coming from it and think we have to figure out how to guarantee access to this new promising research. You have to be able to engage these at-risk folks and keep them in the study because whatever strategy you develop has to work for them. I leave you with the words of Harriet Tubman, “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”