Today, February 7, is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a time for directing the country’s attention to an epidemic which continues to take its horrific toll on African-Americans from coast to coast.

By Nathan James

In the 36 years that have elapsed since the first US HIV-positive patient presented in a New York City emergency room, the virus has claimed 37 million lives across the globe, and continues to hit people of color in both hemispheres the hardest.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says an estimated 1.2 million individuals are living with HIV or AIDS, and of that number, approximately 1 in 8 do not know they are infected. “For people of color, especially gay black men, the figures are especially alarming,” says Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

Dr. Thomas Frieden

“Although we’ve made significant progress in fighting the spread of HIV, through teaching programs like CDC Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), prevention education, and peer-to-peer counseling, the statistics are still getting worse.”

Frieden, who was New York City’s health commissioner before being appointed to the CDC in 2009 by President Obama, has seen the devastation HIV has wrought on the Black same-gender-loving (SGL) community firsthand. “What we’re seeing nationally, happened locally first,” the director noted. According to his agency, the numbers are sobering.

While African Americans comprise just 12% of the US population, they nevertheless account for 40% of all current HIV/AIDS cases, nearly 500,000 as of 2013. During 2014, the last year for which data was available, 19.436 Black people were diagnosed with HIV, two-thirds of whom live in the South. For Black gay men, the situation is extremely bleak: the CDC says the lifetime risk of HIV infection for this group is a catastrophic 1 in 2.

“These are more than dry statistics,” Frieden stated, “for Black SGL men, this is a dire warning.” More than 50% of the 3,742 HIV/AIDS fatalities in 2013 were African Americans, and in the gay community, incidences of new infections continue to climb. Frieden cited lack of access to reliable healthcare (especially in the South), poor prevention utilization, societal bias against LGBT people of color, and lack of provider training in new methodologies, including PreP, as key factors driving the huge disparity in Black versus white HIV/AIDS statistics.

During his administration, President Barack Obama greatly increased funding for HIV research at both the CDC and the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). While ONAP’s future is uncertain as President Donald Trump continues to form his government, the incoming administration has removed all LGBT-related content, including HIV/AIDS information, from every federal government agency website, and has made no commitment to continuing ongoing HIV research.

White House officials did not return repeated requests for comment on this story.