Editorial: Pitt researchers should consult resources closer to home

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Research shows that African-American men who have sex with other men tend to take far fewer sexual risks than white men — and yet, they are more likely to contract HIV.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dr. Ron Stall, a professor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, explained, “Generally, [African-American men] take far fewer risks than white guys. They are much more conservative than gay men in general. But it’s a 30-year-long epidemiological puzzle.”

But why do African-Americans contract HIV at such a higher rate? Pitt has partnered with the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Black Equity in Washington, D.C., to solve this dilemma.

The National Institutes of Health have given Pitt and the center a $3.2 million grant to conduct research into this issue in hopes of finding out why African Americans are far more likely to contract such an epidemic. They plan to survey Gay Pride Parades across the country hoping to solve this case, but Pitt, heading the research aspect of the project, should call upon the community and student body to contribute to finding valuable solutions.

The survey both Pitt and the center plan to conduct only includes surveying African-American men who attend annual Black Gay Pride events in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While those cities host large gay pride events, Pittsburgh is no stranger in hosting large LGBTQ festivals.

In fact, the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, which is a nonprofit organization that “unites, fosters good fellowship and social interaction among LGBTQ residents in the metropolitan Pittsburgh area,” hosts a three-day gay pride festival in June.

In terms of the student body, the Rainbow Alliance, the Black Action Society and Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force student ambassadors are clear candidates to head the efforts for raising awareness at Pitt. The Black Action Society has made previous efforts to hand out contraceptives in light of HIV. The Rainbow Alliance has as well, hosting awareness events and meetings for the LGBTQ community. The Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force adds to such efforts, promoting the awareness and education of STDs, especially HIV.

Brandon Benjamin, president of Rainbow Alliance, noted how important it was to team with student and local organizations in Pittsburgh in order to get a comprehensive picture of the issue. 

“Pittsburgh is no exception to the problem,” Benjamin said. “Pitt Men’s Study, Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, Black Action Society and the Center for Race and Social Problems should be some of the first people [the researchers] should be going to.”

The researchers’ partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Black Equity to find crucial solutions to a debilitating problem has potential, but they should not overlook the University’s  resources of student and community organizations to assist in the process. Pitt is home to very proactive organizations in this respect, and it would be wise to tap into those outlets.

What is more, Pittsburgh is no exception to the issue as well, and to conduct a thorough, convincing study, Pitt must look into its own backyard for assistance.

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