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My Perceptions of AIDS in The Bronx
While growing up in The Bronx, New York, I learned about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – a virus that wreaked havoc on the human population. My parents never discussed HIV or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) so I did not realize the true scope of the problem. Once I matured, however, I started to see how big of a problem this was. HIV attacked the world silently, killing off millions of people since 1981 to present day. Although it was a worldwide problem, individual communities held the answers as to why HIV/AIDS spread so rapidly. Since I lived in an urban society, the problem in my neighborhood definitely involved illicit drugs; the Bronx especially is a hotspot for drug activity. Through the discussion of how HIV/AIDS hit my community, hopefully awareness will be raised in order to help end this travesty.
I went to a Catholic high school that expectedly did not discuss topics such as Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, other than to have safe sex. Even then, my sophomore high school health class almost completely ignored AIDS except for half a class one day. My knowledge of AIDS stemmed from a wide variety of places such as advertisements, friends and the news. I knew that AIDS could be spread through blood and sexual contact, but did not know how the virus spread through the body. According to the data I gathered, Latinos and Blacks are the most affected demographic in the Bronx. From what I saw during my four years in high school, it seemed that Latinos and Blacks took up 99% of my school. Latinos took up about half of the school while Blacks had a similar number. The remaining one percent consisted of my high school’s few Asian or Indian students. There was only one student in my graduating class who was white, and that student was half White and Latino. Even with such large population of minorities my school ignored the AIDS pandemic; however, my school did take part in the 2007 New York City AIDS Walk, showing that my school does try to contribute outside the classroom.
Image taken from Google, 2007
The AIDS outbreak in my neighborhood (zip code 10457) is one of the worst in The Bronx. When asked about how many cumulative AIDS cases since 1980 have been diagnosed in my zip code, I thought the number was somewhere around 6,000, because my zip code is big. Instead, the number turned out to be 2,790. However, the rate per 100,000 people in my zip code (4,040) is double the rate of The Bronx (2,312) and approximately twelve times the rate of the United States (339). When I saw these numbers, I knew AIDS was a frightening problem plaguing the world. I also thought that the cumulative number of AIDS cases that resulted from heterosexual transmission since 1980 in The Bronx was around 10,000. The actual number is 4,358. It is peculiar that the number of cases of men who have sex with men (MSM), 4,418, is almost equal to the number of heterosexual transmissions (Table 1), possibly because people report transmission as heterosexual in fear of being a social outcast. I found this odd because of the way AIDS spread around during its first ten years, which was primarily through homosexuals. It was no shock that Intravenous Drug Users (IDUs) took up 13,642 cases, which was more than MSM and heterosexual transmissions combined (Table 2) (1,2,3).
Table 1: The Bronx AIDS Cases
Rate per 100,000 People
10452 High Bridge
10453 Morris Heights
10454 Mott Haven
10458 Bedford Park
10460 West Farms
10464 Pelham Bay Park
10465 Throgs Neck
10468 Kingsbridge Heights
10473 Castle Hill
10474 Hunt's Point
There are three zip codes in The Bronx that have a rate per 100,000 people higher than 4,000: 10454 (Mott Haven) with a rate of 4014, 10456 (Morrisania) with a rate of 4,214, and 10457 (Tremont) with a rate of 4,040. When compared to the national rate, 339, it is obvious that these three areas are in urgent need of help. I know firsthand that these areas are not particularly safe, especially Mott Haven. Mott Haven often appears on the news discussing violence and, more commonly, drug cases. Tying in with my personal experience, it seems that there is a relationship between drug usage and AIDS cases. This is apparent by the 46% of AIDS cases through IDU transmission (3). There is a way to heal all of this damage but The Bronx does not have the resources. The rate per 100,000 people in The Bronx is 2,312, which is slightly more than double the rate of New York State, which is 906 (Table 1) (1,2,3,4).
Table 2: Methods of Transmission
# of MSM
# of IDU
# of Heterosexual
# of Etc/Unknown
In my research I discovered a disparity between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics Latinos and AIDS. Blacks had a rate three times higher than whites in The Bronx. Nationally, the rate for Blacks 3,249, is three times more than the rate for Whites, 998 (Table 3). This was not a surprise; although the White population in New York State is significantly higher than Blacks and Hispanics, in The Bronx it is reversed (Table 3) (1,2,3,4). Hispanics have a little more than double the rate for Whites in The Bronx. Drug dealers try to attract as many people as they can, usually attracting Blacks and Hispanics at an early age. Peer pressure does hurt as well. Since Blacks and Hispanics usually come from poverty stricken households, once they are addicted to drugs they share needles to save money. A bigger concern is that once they are hooked, they start to commit crimes in order to obtain money. This all intertwines with the AIDS rate because of shared needles but the city is attempting to reform this. Drug users were passing HIV/AIDS at a higher rate. New York City passed a law which enabled needle exchange programs, where drug addicts trade dirty needles for sterilized, clean needles. These programs have drastically reduced the HIV infection rate (5).
Table 3: Race Trends in the Bronx, New York State and the United States
Total AIDS cases
Rate per 100,000 people
The media dictates what information is released to its audience. In an urban society, advertisements exist in every square foot of space. It is no wonder that advertisements about AIDS are often found around the city. The ads do not stay up year round, however. I have notice that AIDS ads are put up when the NYC AIDS walk is approaching; otherwise they are seldom found around the city. Instead, alcohol and television ads are usually found. Even when there are ads, there are never any informative ads other than telling the total death rate at the time. I recall seeing an ad on a bus saying a total of 40 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS today, but this was several years ago. No statistics are ever really given to the public except for the occasional news story. One article from the Daily News tells that the Bronx used to be ranked the 804th unhealthiest county in the United States in 1970, but a decade later it was ranked the 85th unhealthiest county. In 1990, a Bronx man could expect to die at age 64 and a Bronx woman could expect to die at age 75. These numbers rank 26th worst in the country. Also to note, the article mentions that the mortality rate is distorted because of young adults dying from causes such as homicide, drug overdose and AIDS (6). During the weeks before the 2007 NYC AIDS walk, advertisements were all over the city. The media did an excellent job of spreading the word; I participated in the walk and found that the turnout was tremendous. It was only during the walk that I finally heard some statistics from one of the participating groups, but since it was in speech form it was hard to check sources on the spot although I do not recall the numbers. At that point it did not matter, because we all were there to walk and defeat AIDS.
In some sense, the government is to blame for this. Instead of worrying about the United States, the US government thinks about the AIDS problems in other countries. Even in middle class areas such as southwest Yonkers, which is north of the Bronx, the AIDS problem is running rampant. That one area of Yonkers has 30% of Yonker’s 3,457 AIDS cases (7).
There are currently many organizations attempting to solve the HIV/AIDS problem, although the methods taken are not quite as empathetic. One nonprofit group lost $1 million, which is possibly heading towards other organizations that might use the money better (8). Some attempts to annihilate this problem are misplaced as well. Some agencies are attempting to send money to Manhattan and Staten Island, even though the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens consist of 65% of the total HIV/AIDS cases in New York City (9).
Throughout the world, HIV/AIDS has destroyed families and friends alike. The Bronx was hit hard as the statistics show, but there is not enough being done about it. Organizations are ignoring places in desperate need such as The Bronx, especially in areas where the rate of AIDS is over 3,000. In places with a rate over 4,000, there should be immediate action. If this problem is not stopped, it will continue to destroy the human race.