October 8, 2008
On National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, we reflect on the disproportionate toll of HIV/AIDS among Latinos in the United States as we intensify our commitment to fighting the virus and the disease in this minority community.
Latinos are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at a higher rate than every other racial or ethnic group in the United States except African-Americans. The HIV infection rate for Latinos in this country -- 29.3 new cases per 100,000 people in 2006 -- is nearly three times higher than for whites.1 Since the epidemic began, an estimated 80,690 Latinos with AIDS in the United States have died.2 The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), joins the Latino community in mourning those who have succumbed to this terrible disease.
To make progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS among Latinos, we need to overcome the barriers to early HIV testing and treatment. A recent study found that four of every 10 Latinos in the United States who test positive for HIV develop AIDS within a year of learning they are infected.3 That means a significant number of Latinos with HIV get tested late in the course of their disease, long after proper counseling and treatment should begin. This is unacceptable in our country, where antiretroviral drugs for controlling HIV and prolonging life are widely available and best used earlier in the course of disease. A delay in getting tested or starting treatment also may increase the risk of spreading HIV, as untreated patients with high levels of the virus are more likely than treated patients to infect others. Therefore, NIAID strongly endorses testing for HIV during routine medical care for adolescents, adults and pregnant women, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.4
Given the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on Latinos in the United States, NIAID supports research on the effects of the virus and its treatment in this patient population as part of the Institute's comprehensive research program to prevent HIV transmission and help those who become infected. For instance, Latinas represent more than a quarter of the 2,214 volunteers currently enrolled in the NIAID-co-sponsored Women's Interagency Health Study, which is investigating the long-term impacts of HIV infection and antiretroviral therapy in women. Latinos represent more than half of the 370 volunteers currently participating in a NIAID-sponsored Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study in Los Angeles of the natural history of treated and untreated HIV infection in young, minority men who have sex with men. And Latinas comprise two-thirds of the 202 volunteers in a NIAID-sponsored study of osteoporosis in HIV-positive, postmenopausal minority women.
NIAID also encourages Latinos to participate in clinical trials for HIV therapeutics and vaccines. Research participation not only helps make cutting-edge scientific findings relevant to the Latino community, but also opens access to quality health care services and counseling on how to reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV. In this regard, Latinos composed 21 percent of the 7,672 U.S. volunteers in studies conducted last year by the NIAID-funded AIDS Clinical Trials Group, which plays a major role in defining the standards of care for the treatment of HIV infection and opportunistic diseases related to HIV/AIDS. Latinos also represented 30 percent of the nearly 3,600 U.S. volunteers enrolled in studies conducted last year by the NIAID-sponsored International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Group, which works to decrease illness and death associated with HIV disease in children, adolescents and pregnant women.
Latinos are involved in HIV/AIDS studies not only as participants, but also as scientists. NIAID and its sister institutes at NIH support the training and development of the next generation of Latino researchers through programs for minority investigators at NIH and at numerous sites around the country.
On this commemorative day, we thank those who care for Latinos with HIV/AIDS and those who work to prevent the spread of HIV in Latino communities. We also thank those who have volunteered for clinical trials to develop and test HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment methods, and we urge members of the Latino community to continue participating in such research. Finally, we encourage Latinos -- and, indeed, all communities -- to champion HIV testing as part of routine medical care.
Dr. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.