PHOENIX – A first-of-its-kind interactive map of HIV rates in the United States turns dark red over Maricopa and Pima counties when a visitor filters for black residents, illustrating rates roughly three times the state’s average.
That isn’t necessarily new information – national HIV rates have historically been high among the black community – but seeing the map will hopefully lead the public to get tested for HIV or volunteer in their communities, said Dr. Patrick Sullivan, an associate professor of epidemiology at Atlanta’s Emory University and the principal researcher for the map.
“Black communities in the United States are heavily, disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic,” Sullivan said. “But seeing this in a graphical way … makes it more impactful.”
The map, called AIDSVu, uses data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It displays data on HIV diagnoses, which include both HIV and AIDS cases.
Arizona has roughly 260,000 black residents, accounting for around 4 percent of the state’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Nearly 602 out of 100,000 black people in Arizona had HIV or AIDS as of 2009, well above the state’s average of nearly 216 cases out of 100,000 people, according to the 2011 Annual Arizona HIV/AIDS Report by the Office of HIV, STD and Hepatitis Services, part of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Black women are hit particularly hard by HIV both nationally and in Arizona. Black women and men who have sex with men are called “groups of special concern” by the department.
The HIV rate for black women in Arizona is nearly nine times higher than that for white women, according to Arizona’s profile on the AIDSVu website (www.aidsvu.org). The HIV rate for black men is nearly twice as high as that for white men.
Phronie Jackson, project coordinator for the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative at the National Council of Negro Women, said a lack of access to health care and lower economic status among black women may be responsible for their vulnerability to HIV.
Some black women “are depending on males and they may not be able to negotiate safer sex if (they) depend on a man for shelter or food,” Jackson said.
However, Bruce Weiss, director of prevention programs at the Phoenix-based Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, said HIV is a problem for men and women of all economic levels among all ethnic groups.
“There are plenty of middle class people getting HIV. There are a lot of rich people getting HIV,” Weiss said.
Apart from the map, the AIDSVu website features a profile for each state displaying demographic and HIV information. AIDSVu users can also locate the nearest HIV testing center by entering a ZIP code, a city or a state in the website’s search engine.
Judy Norton, AIDS director for the state health department, said she was delighted by how user-friendly the map is.
“It’s so nice to have a visual of all the hard work that we do in collecting the data,” Norton said.
The map was published in June to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first reports of HIV, said Sullivan, the researcher.
“I think it’s an important opportunity for people to go on, to see what’s happening with HIV in their community,” Sullivan said. “We hope people will be moved to take some kind of action.”
Bastien Inzaurralde is a reporter for Cronkite News Service