September 9, 2010
Health experts say Washington's African immigrant communities have a very different HIV/AIDS case profile compared to the general population. Males accounted for 84 percent of Washington's HIV/AIDS cases between 2003 and 2007, state Department of Health data show. But among the state's foreign-born black immigrants, women accounted for almost half of all HIV infections. This is in large part because the virus is spread more commonly by heterosexual contact in their home countries. A similar trend also holds true for Oregon.
Solomon Tsegaselassie, a health educator for the Seattle-based Center for Multicultural Health and a native Ethiopian, said the topic of HIV/AIDS is taboo for many African immigrants who come from countries with high infection rates. Often, immigrants do not want to be seen coming to the center for testing, he said, even though CMH pays people $20 to get screened for HIV. "They want me to visit their house in the dark so people don't get suspicious," he said.
In some ways, fighting HIV/AIDS in African immigrant communities in the United States is more difficult than back home, Tsegaselassie said. Too many here "think there's not an HIV problem in America. They think it's an Africa problem," he said.
CMH, with funding from King County, is recruiting immigrants to serve as peer educators who distribute HIV prevention information. One recruit, Getent Woldemical, a taxi driver from Ethiopia, tries to talk with other cabbies about HIV/AIDS as they wait in front of hotels to pick up passengers. Woldemical used to pass out condoms until several drivers told him they were offended by his actions. Now he distributes preventions fliers, he said.