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We Must Address the AIDS Crisis Facing Latinos

October 15, 2010

Read this blog on the Huffington Post.

Over the last month, our country has reflected on the many contributions Latinos have made both to the United States and society as a whole. But as National Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, it's time we focus our attention on an equally important, if less cheerful issue: the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on Latino communities in the United States. Addressing this critical issue is not only important for the health of Latino communities, its imperative for the health of our nation as well.

The last day of National Hispanic Heritage Month, October 15, is National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, and an important opportunity to examine the needs of this underserved population. While Latinos account for only 15 percent of the American population, they make up 18 percent of people living with HIV and 19 percent of new AIDS diagnoses. In fact, the rate of AIDS diagnoses among Latino men and women is three and four times higher, respectively, than their white counterparts.

There are several factors that contribute to the disproportionate impact of AIDS on Latinos, some of which apply to other communities of color such as poverty, increased incarceration rates, access to quality health care, and others like language barriers, which mostly affect communities with high immigrant populations. And while there is no singular "Hispanic culture," the general premium placed on a sense of machismo may also serve to further stigmatize risk factors within the Latino population, particularly same-sex encounters.

Considering these factors, it is critical that we work to address the disparate impact HIV/AIDS has on Latinos, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because the health of our nation depends on it. As of 2008, more than one in five children in the United States under the age of 18 was Latino. This ratio is even greater (one in four) for children under five. The current rate of population growth in the United States is actually being driven by the Latino community, and their numbers will continue to grow.

The relative youth of Latinos serves to exacerbate other risk factors already facing the community. We know that young people are at increased risk of infection, partly because of a sense of apathy and partly as a result of a general sense of invincibility. The truth is, 13 percent of new infections in the United States are among young people, aged 13 to 24. A recent survey of 21 major American cities found that among gay Latino youth (aged 18 to 29) infected with HIV, six out of 10 were unaware of their status.

As more than one-third of Latinos in America are under 18, this confluence of risk factors poses a serious public health concern, but also offers hope. Because so much of the population is school age, there's considerable potential for comprehensive and culturally appropriate sex education programs to have a significant impact on HIV prevention efforts. Because children of immigrants often serve as translators and cultural liaisons for adults in their homes, these programs could assist in the dissemination of information to adult populations as well.

What's more, reaching out to young Latinos and educating them about the indiscriminate nature of HIV and AIDS may also serve to further remove the stigma associated with the disease among this already more tolerant demographic. This cannot be done without engaging in a public dialogue about both this disease and its effects on our Latino brothers and sisters. On this National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, I hope we will continue this dialogue.

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This article was provided by National Minority AIDS Council. Visit NMAC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
HIV & Me: A Guide to Living With HIV for Hispanics
The Body en Español
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on HIV Awareness and Prevention in the U.S. Latino Community

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