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Los Angeles Times Examines HIV/AIDS Among Gang Members in Los Angeles

April 5, 2006

The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday examined HIV/AIDS among the approximately 39,000 gang members living in Los Angeles. According to a study commissioned by the city and scheduled to be released on Wednesday, gang members have a particularly high risk of contracting HIV because of risky behavior, lack of knowledge about the disease and stigmatization of HIV-positive people, the Times reports. About half of the 300 gang members surveyed for the study agreed to be tested for HIV. According to the study, one member tested positive for the virus; 90% said they had engaged in unprotected sex over the past year; 31% incorrectly believed a vaccine to prevent HIV infection already existed; 54% said their friends would abandon them if they were HIV-positive; and 91% said their communities needed more education about the virus. The study was one of the first in the U.S. to focus on gang members, the Times reports. "We were stunned -- amazed -- that nobody's looked at this before," Stephen Simon, the city's AIDS coordinator, said, adding, "Here's a high-risk population that obviously engages in high-risk behavior, one that is uninformed and realizes it's uninformed, and there is no data on this population." Not-for-profit groups such as the Minority AIDS Project are trying to reach out to gangs in Los Angeles through former gang members, the Times reports. Victor McKamie, the group's executive director and a former gang member, has produced a rap song about the risks of HIV. He also has distributed condoms to gang members. According to the Times, the United Nations provides grants for HIV/AIDS prevention to international organizations that focus on vulnerable youth, including gang members who previously lived in the U.S. In El Salvador, an organization called Homies Unidos, which helps gang members deported from the U.S., received a $36,000 grant from the U.N. to control the spread of HIV/AIDS among its clients (Doan, Los Angeles Times, 4/5).

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