How Culture Can Hinder Fighting HIV Among Houston's African-Americans

Despite recent strides made in HIV prevention and treatment, Houston's black community is still disproportionately affected by the virus. The people on the front lines of the battle against HIV say they're still trying to overcome cultural barriers that can make it difficult to get people tested and treated.

African Americans account for 60 percent of new HIV infections in the Houston area.  That's according to the Centers for Disease Control, which also finds one-in-six African Americans locally living with HIV. 

Dr. Stanley Lewis is the Chief Medical Officer of the St. Hope Foundation.  That's a nonprofit community healthcare provider.  He says one of the big obstacles in fighting HIV is getting everyone in the black community to trust medical science.

"These things are rooted in the Tuskegee Incident (sic), and other examples, where blacks were not served properly by medical science or medical research."

Dr. Lewis says there's also the issue of how people in the black community get their information on HIV.  He says many still rely on what they hear in the barbershop, or from their pastors, or from websites that may contain misinformation.  And that's where he'd like to see social media step in.

"I mean, I go into my clinic, and every patient, regardless of their socio-economic status, has a smartphone. And, so, if there were ways that we could get the messaging through these devices, I think that's when culture can start to change."

Dr. Lewis says, on the medical side, he sees a great deal of promise in home HIV testing kits in reducing the spread of the virus.  He's also encouraged by the FDA's approval of using the drug Truvada specifically to prevent transmission.

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David Pitman

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