OMAHA (KPTM) – National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is one week away and Douglas County Health Department officials want more people to get tested.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that blacks/African Americans, as recently as 2010, accounted for 49 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases despite making up 14 percent of the U.S. population.
DCHD wants to use NBHAAD to educate people on how HIV is transferred and why people should get tested.
Thursday, FOX 42's Leah Uko talked exclusively with a man who wanted to educated people on why HIV is not a death sentence.
"It's real. It's real; especially in the African American community. It's real," Tommy Dennis said.
Dennis stressed that AIDS is tearing the Black community whether they accept it or not.
Especially in young, Black, gay men. Davis is all four.
"There's a trust factor there and you just hope that your partner is going to care enough to take, you know, not only responsibility for his body, but your body as well."
He was diagnosed with HIV in 2010 and has been undetectable since.
Dennis said he did not feel betrayed by his former partner, but hurt by his response when he told him about his condition. Dennis described his reaction as cold and dismissive.
"It's not something that's talked about in African American homes. You know, you don't talk about how to put on a condom or you know—it's just something that's automatically assumed."
Despite the lack of dialogue, HIV/AIDS has grown to be an epidemic in the African American community.
The CDC reported that in 2010, nearly 60 percent of estimated new HIV infections were among blacks/African Americans, about 20 percent in Hispanic/Latinos and about 20 percent in whites.
54 percent of new infections among young gay and bisexual males were in African Americans.
Other CDC reports showed that in 2010, 87 percent of young males got HIV from male-to-male sex.
DCHD STD/HIV Prevention Specialist, Sherri Nared said there is no definite reason why African Americans have a greater burden of HIV than other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S.
She did say history of slavery and modern music—specifically Hip Hop and Rap have a big impact especially on women.
"We as black women especially give our power away to a man," Nared continued. "So instead of us testing and finding out what our status is—if he says ‘I don't want to test' then she won't make him test and she'll still be in a relationship with him."
This scenario doesn't only play out with black women. According to the CDC's recent report, in 2010, 86 percent of young females got HIV through heterosexual sex.
These numbers, Nared said, are a national problem that is highly concentrated in Omaha.
"I have people tell me they're from California, New York or Texas and they always wrap up and use condoms to protect themselves there. But when they come to Nebraska—come to Omaha they think ‘Oh it's just Omaha it's okay'. And in actuality a lot times it's people bringing things to Omaha."
Both Nared and Dennis want people to stop judging their potential sex partners' health by their appearance.
"Just because a person looks good, smells good does not mean that they're good for you," Nared said. "You need to protect yourself."
Health officials suggest sexually active people get tested for HIV and STIs every six months and communicate their results with their partners.
Parents and families can ask their insurer if HIV screening is available without co-pay, as required by the Affordable Care Act for most health plans.
Dennis added that every center that educates about HIV, also provides treatment so those infected can live long, healthy lives.
"I won't go as far as to say that I wear it as a badge of honor, but it's definitely not something that I shy away from."
In addition to getting tested to reduce the growing problem, he said the progress starts with open conversations with all races and ethnicities—especially in today's generation of embracing interracial dating.
"It needs to be talked about and as long as I am here breathing and standing and walking—whatever. I'm going to talk about it."
Dennis is an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and is happily married. His husband tested negative for HIV.
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