September 20, 2011
Quick Facts About
In TheBody.com's HIV/AIDS Organization Spotlight series, we focus on some of the true unsung heroes of the HIV community: the organizations that support and provide services for individuals living with, or at risk for, HIV. We profile some of the best in the U.S. and learn how they got started, what challenges they face and what's in store for them in the future.
This week, we turn our sights on New York and Bronx AIDS Services (BAS). According to the New York City Department of Health, at the end of 2009, 108,886 people were living with HIV/AIDS, 22,248 in the Bronx alone. This year, Bronx AIDS Services celebrates its 25th anniversary of dedicated effort.
TheBody.com recently interviewed Jose Davila, the executive director at Bronx AIDS Services.
Can you tell me how Bronx AIDS Services got started?
Bronx AIDS Services began in the early '80s as a task force that was created by the New York State Department of Health in response to the HIV epidemic. They created similar task forces throughout the state. A number of those task forces raised funds and became non-profits organization--so we became Bronx AIDS Services in 1986.
Talk about your programs.
We have programs like case management, which helps individuals get benefits, proper housing, entitlements and proper food and nutrition. We have a legal program that provides legal advice and representation among issues they may have, in terms of housing entitlements, living wills, and other matters like that. We have the only legal advocacy program that is designed specifically for people that are infected with HIV/AIDS in the Bronx.
Why do you think people who are positive tend to shy away from accessing programs and support?
Stigma is still attached to this disease. People shy away from seeking help because they feel that if they divulge their HIV status, they're going to be discriminated against or they're going to be stigmatized. Last year, there were many attacks against gay men who are HIV positive in the Bronx. That got a lot of press. People fear that by seeking care, they're status is going to be revealed.
What advice would you give about stigma or fearing to disclose?
The first thing we try to do with them is to make them understand that having this disease is not their fault. We are here to protect their confidentiality and help get them the care and assistance they need, without them being discriminated against. So that's part of what we do and we do it very well. You'll notice when you call the agency, you don't see a number or name identifying us on your screen and that's part of the confidentiality and protection that we offer our clients.
Do you think HIV/AIDS is on the radar in the Latino community?
I wouldn't say it's under the radar. We're pretty aware that the Latino community is pretty high up there in terms of infection rates, second to African Americans. Where I think there is a big hidden epidemic is in Latino immigrant communities because of stigma, there's a fear of deportation when people are seeking help to get treatment.
What are cultural factors involved?
As you know, the Latino culture is a very "macho" culture and same-sex behavior is stigmatized and discriminated in the Latino culture. So that makes it even more difficult to provide services for Latino MSM because they don't want in any way to reveal their sexual preferences in their communities.
Women of color, Latinas, many of them are very submissive to male dominance. And they fear if they reveal the fact that they were infected by their male partner, they're going to be abused, so that complicates it even more, the access to care.
So how do we address that?
With education. It's a very slow process because you have to penetrate communities in culturally sensitive ways and then try to address the issues with their cultural organizations and other places where they congregate. For example we've worked with a lot of churches that have large Latino congregations and have done HIV education and promoted the services that we offer. But it's a very, very slow process.
What's the biggest challenge that you face doing this work?
The biggest challenge that we face is getting the funding. Most of our funding comes from the government, but most of the funding now is targeting prevention with positives and treatment as a means of prevention. So we have to find different funding to do the additional HIV prevention within the community. We're now moving onto foundations and corporation support to try to fund the more traditional HIV prevention approaches that we have used since the beginning of the epidemic, that are still needed in communities.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working at Bronx AIDS Services?
Seeing our clients come in with high demands and needs and being able to help them stabilize their lives and become healthier with the disease. That is extremely rewarding.
Part of the work that we want to do in the future is to help them reintegrate themselves into the workforce. Now that there's treatment that can make them live longer, that can give them the opportunity to go back to school and complete a degree or get them the proper housing for themselves and their family.
How can people get involved with your organization?
We're always looking for economic support. As I mentioned before, government funding keeps slipping, so people can donate on our webpage to support our programs and services. They can also donate their time. We have a strong volunteer program. People can go to our website and register to be a volunteer. Also, they can become a board member and help lead the organization with their participation and leadership.
We need all the help we can get.
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.
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