Young men of color who have sex with other men are most at risk for HIV and AIDS and account for more new sexually transmitted infections than any other gay and bisexual subgroup in the East Bay, according to Alta Bates Summit’s East Bay AIDS Center.
Within Alameda County, HIV infection rates are consistently highest for people living in Oakland, Berkeley, San Leandro and Hayward.
“This is a really big deal,” said Dr. Jeffrey Burack, co-medical director of East Bay AIDS Center. “It’s particularly worrisome because rates have gone up sharply amongst young people, which really bodes poorly for the future.”
According to the Alameda County Comprehensive HIV Prevention Plan, nearly 70 percent of people with HIV in Alameda County were persons of color as of 2013. From 2010 to 2012, almost two-thirds of new HIV diagnoses were among young people ages 13-29, 87 percent of whom were persons of color. Within that age group, men who have sex with men made up 81 percent of the diagnoses.
To combat the problem, EBAC founded the CRUSH Project — Connecting Resources for Urban Sexual Health — to provide sexual health services for high-risk, young East Bay residents who do not have HIV. Funded by a $6 million grant from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, the project has been operating for more than a year and has roughly 120 participants enrolled. It is tailored to young men of color age 18-29 who have sex with men. This population is not only the greatest at-risk for HIV infection within Alameda County, but it is the most under-reached.
Since the late 1990s, an EBAC program called the Downtown Youth Project has provided sexual health services and counseling for HIV-positive youths, but before CRUSH, none had existed for uninfected young people. As a result, the program is focused not only on providing treatment and services but on studying how best to reach this population and link them to available resources.