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Death rate among black people living with HIV is still the highest

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But the gap is narrowing

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Death rates dropped among black people living with HIV in the US between 2008 and 2012, and the drop was more substantial than the overall drop in deaths among all people with HIV in the country, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even so, black people with HIV are still more likely to die than whites or people of Hispanic descent — a finding that indicates a clear need for strategies that will "further reduce disparities in deaths," the report's authors write.

Black people living with HIV experienced higher numbers and rates of deaths

The death rate per 1,000 black people living with HIV decreased by 28 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the CDC statistics, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That’s a big, positive change — one that’s bigger than the overall 22 percent decline in deaths per 1,000 people living with HIV during that same period.

It's not all good news. The death rate among black people with HIV in the US remains greater than that of white people or Hispanics living with HIV. In 2012, for instance, 48 percent of people with HIV who died that year were black. Over 8,100 black people living with HIV died, compared with 5,400 deaths among white people, and 2,500 deaths among Hispanics and Latinos.

These findings aren’t necessarily easy to interpret, however. The numbers presented in the report are "all-cause mortality" numbers, meaning that they aren’t strictly related to HIV. The report found that injection drug users have the highest death rates, so these numbers probably include events like overdoses. So today's statistics can’t be used to directly evaluate differences in the quality of care among various ethnicities, the authors write. Still, all-cause mortality is probably the best indicator to use given that HIV infection suppresses the immune system in ways that can result in cancer, or that can leave people vulnerable to various fatal infections.

The fact that these disparities exist in the first place is still distressing

The overall decline in mortality among people living with HIV is encouraging; the gap between ethnicities in the US appears to be narrowing. Yet the fact that these disparities exist in the first place is still distressing, especially given that non-Hispanic black people in the US are among the second largest group without health care. "Efforts are needed to increase entry into and retention care of black persons living with diagnosed HIV," the authors write. "Focusing prevention and care efforts on minority populations with a disproportionate HIV burden could lead to further reduction, if not elimination, of health disparities."