Despite the country’s ever increasing desensitizing to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the crisis is not over and disease continues to affect minority communities, especially African-Americans.

While African-Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for approximately 46 percent of new HIV infections and about 50 percent of reported AIDS cases.

To date, there remains no known cure for AIDS. While the availability of anti-retroviral therapy has had a dramatic impact on decreasing AIDS-related deaths in this country, these treatment regimens are complex, costly and in many cases, can cause serious side effects.

For these reasons, the development of safe, cost-efficient and effective vaccines that can prevent HIV infection in uninfected people is the best hope of stemming and eventually ending the epidemic.

The Test Positive AIDS Network held three days of symposiums this week to stress the importance of community support involving HIV-vaccine research.

“The symposiums were in development for about five months,” said Matt Sharp, director of Treatment Education at the TPN. “The primary purpose was to inform them that there are hundreds of researchers and millions of government dollars being allocated annually to develop a vaccine for HIV. They need to be aware that a tremendous amount of work is being put into the effort to find the AIDS vaccine.”

If there is a lack of enthusiasm from minority groups, particularly African-Americans to provide willing arms to test HIV vaccines, it should not come as a shock, researchers point out. It was 35 years ago when the infamous “Tuskegee Experiments” scandal brought to life how blacks are used for government-sponsored health experiments. Many African-Americans have since become gun-shy when it comes to government-regulated experimentation.

Sharp acknowledges these apprehensions and adds, “Tuskegee was a great tragedy, one that we are mindful of, and will assure potential volunteers the safest treatment possible.”

The two-hour symposiums took place on Oct. 4 and 5. Ed Lee, spokesman for the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, spoke at the opening of each symposium. Lee spoke about the ins-and-outs of current clinical trials and their importance, the importance of “giving ones time for the good of ones community” and keeping the importance of HIV research planted securely in the country’s mind.

“I think it should be required that every paper says something about AIDS in their pages,” said Keith Green, himself infected with the virus. Green edits “Positively Aware” a bi-monthly magazine that is directed at both giving a voice to those affected by the virus and giving people information about current HIV research.

“It has been lost in the shuffle a bit in the media, but it should always be at the forefront of everyone’s minds,” he said. “There are so many people being effected by it because of economic disparities and other factors. We need to continue to spread the word.”

Those interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS vaccines, contact the Test Positive AIDS Network at 773.989.9400.