February 28-March 1, 2011
Oakland, Calif. -- Over thirty HIV program directors, community leaders, academic and community researchers, public and private sector partners and reproductive and sexual health experts met for two days in downtown Oakland to discuss and develop a new roadmap for addressing HIV in the Latino community statewide. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a strategic blue print plan to improve the access to education, screening and care for Latino/a individuals at risk for and infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a major health problem in California and a leading cause of death and chronic disabling diseases around the world. The meeting was organized by staff from La Clinica de la Raza, Get Screened Oakland, Latino Commission on AIDS with support from the Flowers Heritage Foundation.
Latinos are 40% of the population in California and the largest and fastest growing ethnic population in the United States according to the 2010 U.S. census. Laitnos are also one of the fastest growing populations at risk for HIV infection. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2006 Latinos accounted for 22% of the 36,817 new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in 33 states with the HIV diagnosis rate for Latino males 3 times that for white males while the rate of diagnosis for Latina women was more than 5 times that for white women. Closer to home, Latinos are the largest minority group in California, comprising 40% of the total population. The largest percentage of Latinos in California is of Mexican heritage, followed by Central and South Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans. Among Mexican immigrants, an increasing number are indigenous peoples, including Mixtec, Zapotec, and Triqueno, many of whom are not fluent in English or Spanish.
Latino representation among AIDS cases is higher in California than in the United States. Latinos comprise 22.6% of AIDS cases diagnosed in California through 2005, compared to 15.8% nationwide. This difference has increased in recent years. Among cases diagnosed in 2005, the Latino composition in California was 36.3% compared to 18.5% nationally. While the vast majority of Latino AIDS cases are male, the proportion of females has steadily increased. About one-third of the female AIDS cases diagnosed in California since 2000 are Latina. It is time to include sexuality and gender education as part of a comprehensive health strategy that addresses Latino families as part of prevention.
"If there was ever a time when we can change the course of HIV, it is now," said Angel Fabian, HIV Program Supervisor at La Clinica de la Raza, "we need action now before the numbers grow beyond our capacity to respond. We know how HIV is transmitted, we know who is at greatest risk for HIV infection and we have successfully developed new and home-grown interventions that we did not have a decade ago. We can apply many of the lessons learned from our community leaders throughout the state of California to significantly accelerate the progress in bringing transmission rates down and bringing newly infected men and women into care."
Participants in the meeting were Tri-City Health Center, Alameda Office of AIDS, Downtown Youth Clinic, SalvaSIDA, Bay Area National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, Mission Neighborhood Health Center, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AGUILAS, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, Bienestar Human Services, Tibotec, Los Angeles Latino Task Force, Planned Parenthood LA, National Council of La Raza, National Association of State and Territory AIDS Directors, Latino Commission on AIDS, CA State Office of AIDS, and Congresswoman Barbara Lees office.
According to a 2009 report issued by the statewide Latino Advisory Board, "the most commonly reported modes of HIV exposure among male and female Latino AIDS cases in California involve sexual transmission. Nearly 70% of male Latino AIDS cases have been reported in the HIV risk category of men who have sex with men. Fifty-six percent of the Latina AIDS cases were infected with HIV through heterosexual contact, while 20% were infected through injection drug use. There is a growing awareness of the impact that HIV/AIDS is having on the Latino transgender male to female (MTF) community. Transgender Latinas had the highest percentage (3.2%) of positive results among testers at California publicly funded counseling and testing sites. HIV rates among transgender Latinas ranging from 26% to 29% have been documented in Los Angeles and San Francisco."
As a result of this meeting a clear sense of urgency necessitates holding accountable local, regional, state and federal entities for addressing HIV/AIDS in the Latino Community in California and promoting research focused on structural and homegrown interventions. A follow up meeting is scheduled for May in Los Angeles.
"We are 30 years into this epidemic and ... It is time to be less polite and more aggressive about the inaction and need for immediate infusion of funding," said Eduardo Morales, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor of psychology at Alliant International University as well as founder and executive director of AGUILAS, an HIV prevention program for Latino gay/bisexual men in San Francisco. "I don't think coming across as patient and reasonable is a good approach. This has not worked. We must create a strategic plan and road map that firmly addresses the true scope of the problem in our community statewide."