A recent report by the Minnesota Department of Health, the “HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report” says that the number of new HIV infections has increased among all state demographics including African-born immigrants.
Last year, 48 African-born Minnesotans were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. While it is too early to determine a trend from these latest statistics, healthcare experts suggest that lack of knowledge on HIV/AIDS among many communities might be a leading cause for the high infection rates. Other causes include violation of women’s rights leaving them vulnerable and susceptible to infections, and the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
The last several years have seen a surge of African-oriented HIV/AIDS awareness and outreach programs explaining in some cases an increase in early diagnosis of HIV infections.
Japheth Nyakundi, a program specialist who works with minorities at MDH offered a different perspective.
“It is not necessarily a bad thing that these numbers have gone up,” Nyakundi said.
He attributed the increase in new infections to increased awareness that has encouraged more people to get tested and immigration mandates that require certain classes of immigrants to get tested for HIV.
Nyakundi said he was encouraged by the number of African organizations, both publicly and privately funded, that work actively within the community to raise awareness and education on HIV/AIDS.
“We know that these organizations are meeting their objectives, however, we cannot tell if and how the target population has changed its behavior since there has been no research on that,” Nyakundi says.
On the whole Nyakundi said he was happy to see that more Africans are using resources available to them.
“Minnesota has a good healthcare system and more people in the HIV or AIDS infected members of the African community are taking their medication as directed,” Nyakundi said.
Thirty-seven percent of new infections among Minnesota women were African-born, while 10 percent of the new HIV infections among men were African-born.
“Mandatory prenatal check ups might explain these numbers,” said Abdullahi Sheikh, who coordinates HIV outreach programs with the Minneapolis Urban League among African immigrants.
He cautioned, however, over-stigmatizing populations by focusing on the numbers of the report. Like other healthcare officials, he said he was not convinced that these numbers indicate increased risky sexual behavior among Africans.
“Testing, even if it means increasing numbers, is the first passport out of the HIV/AIDS stigma,” Sheikh said. “Next, stick to a single partner, whether you are married or not. Use condoms consistently and correctly, if engaged in casual sex.”