A new study released by Northwestern University investigates HIV rates within the intersection of gay and black men.
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, was conducted on 1015 black MSM (men who have sex with other men) between the ages of 16 and 29 and live in Chicago. These men were asked about their drug use, social/sexual behavior, and their psychological states.
The data found that young black men are 16 times more likely to contract HIV than their young white gay peers. Specifically, the rate of HIV infections is 32% and the rate of rectal sexually transmitted infections is 26.5%. This is despite the fact that young black men report lower rates of sexual risk behaviors, fewer sexual partners, and more lifelong HIV testing.
"We have known from prior studies that this paradox exists—black young men who have sex with men engage in fewer risk behaviors but have a much higher rate of HIV diagnosis," said senior study author Brian Mustanski, PhD, who teaches at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and is also the director of the Northwestern Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. "Our study illuminates how HIV disparities emerge from complex social and sexual networks and inequalities in access to medical care for those who are HIV positive."
This new data comes at a time when health experts are focusing on the HIV rates within the black community. Many health experts want young black men to get HIV tests more regularly. But with this new study saying HIV rates are high despite regular testing, that earlier advice may not work.
The researchers at Northwestern University suggest that the real problem lies within social networks.
“Overall, young black MSM do not report higher rates of HIV risk behaviors like condomless sex," study coauthor Ethan Morgan, PhD, remarked. "But aspects of their social networks align with increased HIV risk. By learning more about young black MSM's social networks, we can better understand what drives such persistent racial disparities in HIV—and close that gap."
"Their social and sexual networks are more dense and interconnected, which from an infectious disease standpoint makes infections transmitted more efficiently through the group," Dr. Mustanski added. "That, coupled with the higher HIV prevalence in the population, means any sexual act has a higher chance of HIV transmission."