February 9, 2005
African-born immigrants, who make up less than 1 percent of the state population, accounted for 21 percent (55) of new HIV infections in Minnesota in 2003. Because immigration policy restricts most HIV-positive people from entering the country, experts believe most of those infections occurred in Minnesota.
The state Health Department spends about $5.3 million each year on HIV education programs, of which $200,000 is currently earmarked for African-born immigrants. State officials hope that by distinguishing between African Americans and African-born immigrants, they can better tailor the prevention messages to be more culturally appropriate.
Gloria Lewis, director of the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health at the Health Department, said the matter is urgent. "How do you reach people from a cultural standpoint, and how do we reach them with the message they need?" Some African-born immigrants believe that people infected with the disease have done something immoral to deserve it, noted Elizabeth Dickinson, community affairs manager for the Minnesota AIDS Project.
African community leaders, such as Linus Nayambu, pastor of the Bloomington-based Ascending Praise Church, say they need help in addressing the stigma and misinformation that persist within their communities. "Our culture, the African culture, is not designed to talk about HIV, or sex in general," said Kenyan-born Nyambu. Young people need the facts about HIV prevention -- including what role condoms play -- from church, schools, and community and government leaders, he said.