June 29, 2011
Monday's designation as National HIV Testing Day should serve to remind Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community members that they are included in the CDC recommendation that everyone ages 13 to 64 get screened for the virus, experts say.
Stigma and ingrained stereotypes that all APIs are high achievers are problematic when it comes to HIV/AIDS, said Boston University assistant professor Hyeouk Hahm, who has studied the disease among the community. These concepts can feed a cultural practice of only showing a perfect family image to the rest of the world, she said. The result is people in the API community do not want to talk about HIV or get tested for the virus since they feel doing so would shatter that image.
A recently published study by CDC researchers found APIs were the only racial/ethnic groups with a significant increase in HIV diagnoses from 2001 to 2008.
Dr. Royce Lin, of San Francisco General Hospital's HIV/AIDS division and an associate professor at University of California-San Francisco, said assumptions about APIs can cause doctors not to ask about a woman's or her partner's sexual histories since she may not fit into a traditional high-risk group. In fact, 86 percent of API women with HIV were infected through heterosexual sex with their partner, said Lin.
"One in three people in the API community living with HIV don't know they have it," Lin added. Making HIV testing as routine as a cholesterol check could help dispel stigma and increase screening rates, he said.
The study, "Epidemiology of HIV Among Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, 2001-2008," was published in the Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (2011;10:150-159).