HBCUs: A tool to end the HIV epidemic

The HIV community has reached momentous achievements in ending the HIV epidemic in recent years, but when we account for race, these achievements ring hollow.

More than half the young people who receive an HIV diagnosis are Black people, and 53% of all new HIV diagnoses occurred in the U.S. South, where Black communities have been hit the hardest by the epidemic. 

Historically Black colleges and universities are an often overlooked arena for our work to end the HIV epidemic. That should change.

HBCUs and the HIV workforce

The HIV workforce needs to reflect the communities we serve, and HBCUs can help.

According to the most recent annual data report, 48% of trainees in AIDS Education and Training Center programs were white, while only 22% were Black and 18% were Latinx. This is higher than in past years, but is still well short of where we need to be. And while the number of Black-led HIV organizations is steadily growing, the HIV movement needs more Black leadership.. 

More than 48,000 students graduate from HBCUs yearly. We cannot ignore this resource; we must invest in and intentionally hire Black HBCU graduates in medical and management positions.

And not just HBCU graduates. We also need to hire HBCU students and other young Black people, who are fully capable of leading the fight against an epidemic that disproportionately impacts them.

HIV funding at HBCUs

HBCUs are chronically underresourced. Since the first HBCU was founded in 1837, they have always been severely underfunded by billions of dollars yearly compared to predominantly white institutions. 

Despite the fact that HBCUs are home to thousands of Black college-aged, the demographic the HIV epidemic is impacting the hardest, not one HBCU is directly funded by the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative. Funding for HIV on HBCU campuses only comes from pharmaceutical companies at present. 

Gilead, for example, awarded $4.5 million this year to Morehouse College and Xavier University of Louisiana to address structural barriers Black people face in receiving HIV testing. prevention, treatment and retention in care. 

This type of investment must be replicated and increased in magnitude many times over by the federal government.

Centering Blackness

The racial health inequities in the United States are a mirror of the systemic oppression and denied opportunities that Black people encounter across all aspects of society. 

Until we unapologetically center Blackness and dismantle anti-Black practices, norms, policies and hiring, the HIV epidemic will continue to have an outsized impact on Black communities and the HIV field will continue to mirror the same oppression Black people see in this country. 

To end the HIV epidemic for Black Youth, we must not ignore HBCUs and allow them to lead.