Declaration of an HIV/AIDS Health Emergency in the New York City Latino Community
From the Latino Commission on AIDS
Whereas, intravenous drug use is the path on which HIV has traveled into most of the New York Latino community. Over 55% of the AIDS cases among Latino men and women are traced directly to the sharing of contaminated syringes for injection drug use. For Latinas, 40% became infected through sex with a man who uses drugs intravenously. Most of the infants born infected with HIV/AIDS can trace their status to a parent infected directly or indirectly through intravenous drug use.
Whereas, despite the central role that drug addiction has played in spreading HIV/AIDS throughout the Latino community, there has been little increase in resources to address the problem. While needle exchange has been shown to be an effective method of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among persons who use drugs, funding for this essential service has remained static over the past eight years. With an estimated 250,00 persons who use illegal drugs in New York, only a relatively small percentage have access to needed drug treatment programs. Funding for drug treatment programs (methadone, residential and out-patient) has barely grown over the past twenty years of the epidemic.
Whereas, rather than provide meaningful resources to prevent the spread of the epidemic through drug use, State and local government have chosen instead to put more and more Latino drug users into State prisons. This has meant that thousands of Latinos have lost right to vote. Drug related incarceration has grown exponentially since the enactment of the so-called Rockefeller Drug Laws. Over 90% of those incarcerated for drug related offenses are African American and Latino. Because of the lack of Spanish language health care and social services many Latinos receive inferior health care and other needed services. With an emphasis on prisons rather than treatment, New York State has the highest rate of HIV infection and AIDS of any prison system in the United States. While Latinos represent one-third of the State inmate population they account for almost half of the AIDS cases in prisons.
Whereas, no segment of the New York Latino community has been hit harder than Puerto Rican New Yorkers. The overwhelming majority of New Yorks HIV/AIDS cases have been among Puerto Ricans. HIV/AIDS is one of the major causes of death among Puerto Ricans ever in history. The disease has been a virtual genocide in the Puerto Rican community that is due to the failure of officials to provide needed drug treatment and harm reduction services.
Whereas, a significant segment of the New York male Latino population with AIDS became infected through unsafe sex with other men. Gay, bisexual and transgender men make up 30% of the cases of Latino men with AIDS. Recent seroprevalence studies have shown that the rate of HIV infection among young Latino gbt men is continuing to grow at a significant rate despite the decline in new infections among white gay/bisexual/transgender men. With such a significant proportion of AIDS cases among Latino gay, bisexual and transgender men, there are only a handful of programs that target this community. Most of the HIV prevention programs target gay men in general with little or no special emphasis on the unique needs of Latino gay, bisexual and transgender men.
Whereas, over 50% of the immigrants with AIDS in New York come from Spanish speaking countries. Many stay in this country because they have access to needed HIV medications through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. They are virtual prisoners because if they go home they will unable to return to the United States for needed medical care. Immigrants with HIV/AIDS have little access to housing, nutrition and critical social services only available to legal residents.
Whereas, it is estimated that almost one-half of new cases of HIV infection occur among young people (13 to 24). Latinos make-up nearly 40% of the AIDS cases among young people between the ages of 13 and 29. There is a whole new generation of Latinos with HIV coming into adulthood. There are few prevention programs that target young Latino men and women.
Whereas, New York is the epicenter for cases of HIV/AIDS among Latinas with over 35% of the Latina AIDS cases nationally. Latinas are at the highest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of the dual possibilities of infection through intravenous drug use and sex with a man who uses drug intravenously. AIDS cases among Latinas are among the fastest growing segments of new cases of HIV/AIDS in the country.
Whereas, thousands of Latino children have been orphaned by the death of a parent due to AIDS.
Whereas, the Latino community has been denied meaningful funding needed to address HIV/AIDS. Since the beginning of the States response to the epidemic, Latinos who use illegal drugs, LGBT Latino men, women and all the other most affected groups have been purposely denied HIV prevention and care from service providers most competent to reach their communities. Because the most affected Latina groups are those most vilified in the public mind, service providers and community leaders have been extremely slow to respond with understanding and resources. The complicity of most societal institutions in turning a deaf ear to Latino cries for assistance is why there is a health crisis in the Latino community.
Therefore be it declared that there exists an HIV/AIDS health emergency in the New York Latino Community. The health emergency demands that specific action is required to address the problem.
Therefore, every Latino and non-Latino elected and appointed official, civic leader, religious leader, media director and community organization has the responsibility to raise awareness of the health threat for Latinos from HIV and disseminate information about the Declaration of Health Emergency in the Latino Community. Leadership must speak about HIV/AIDS, its impact on the Latino community and the need for leveraging private and public funding and other resources to address HIV among Latinos.
Therefore, private and public funders must ensure that the Latino community in New York receives its share of funding proportionate to the extent to which the epidemic has impacted on the Latino community. Further funds should be given to agencies that have a proven cultural competence in dealing with the Latino community and have Latinos in positions of leadership in the organization.
Therefore Latino leadership must take the initiative in obtaining resources for the expansion of needle exchange and drug treatment programs, increasing housing for homeless Latinos with AIDS, expanding programs that prevent the spread of HIV among groups at high risk for HIV infection, repealing of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and ensuring that Latino prisoners with HIV receive adequate health services in their own language.
Therefore Latino media must make special efforts to educate their audiences about the health crisis going on in plain sight. But beyond simply raising awareness about AIDS, leaders in the media must communicate information on HIV prevention and inform the public about the struggle for resources to help Latinos with HIV/AIDS.
Therefore educators in the Latino community bear a special responsibility in addressing the needs of new generations of young Latinos at risk for the epidemic. Young people need frank discussions about transmission and education that confronts the stigma associated with the disease.
Therefore religious leaders need to begin a movement among their congregations that brings home the humanity of those infected with HIV and the special responsibility shared by the religious community. Priests, reverends, mullahs and other religious leaderships must confront the stigma associated with the disease and raise the hard issues of HIV prevention.
Therefore Latino community leadership must confront its prejudices that create the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Leadership must challenge the homophobia, sexism, and ostracizing of the drug user that prevent so many Latinos from taking the HIV test or from otherwise seeking needed assistance.
Therefore Latino community leadership must challenge State and City government in the manner in which they provide services to people with HIV/AIDS to ensure humane treatment and services.
Finally, we must never forget the Latino men, women and children who have died from HIV infection or the families that survive them. The best form of remembrance is to rededicate ourselves on a regular basis to ensuring that those Latinos living with the disease are provided with necessary services and care and that all efforts are made to ensure that HIV does not continue to spread in the Latino community.
Back to the March 2001 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.