When we talk about ethnicity and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country, somehow the media (myself included at times) tends not to be as inclusive as it should be. Too many times, Latinos are either excluded, lumped in with other groups or not given enough of their own spotlight. And that's problematic, especially given that Latinos are the fastest growing population in the U.S. -- their population rose 43 percent between the years 2000 and 2010.
Mind you, in no way are we comparing epidemics here. Yes, HIV is a "black disease," but it's crucial to recognize that it's a "brown" one too.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, of the 1.1 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS in this country, over 200,000 of them are Hispanic. Latinas account for roughly 19 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV cases in the U.S., a whopping 4 times the rate among white women. They also account for 25 percent of all HIV diagnoses among Latinos, with heterosexual men accounting for 28 percent.
Unfortunately, Latino men who have sex with men (MSM) fare worse: Hispanic MSM represented 72 percent of all new infections among all Hispanic/Latino men, and nearly 19 percent among all MSM. Also, 43 percent of new infections occurred in Hispanic/Latino MSM under age 30.
What is fueling HIV in the Hispanic community?
Many of the same factors that affect black Americans, rendering them vulnerable to contracting HIV, also impact Latinos. This includes:
- Poverty and economic instability.
- Institutionalized racism.
- Lack of quality health care, as well as poor access to health care.
- Gender inequality and domestic violence.
- Intravenous drug use and the lack of needle exchange programs.
- Poor health literacy.
- High rates of incarceration.
- Untreated sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and gonorrhea, which make people more vulnerable to contracting HIV.
- Not knowing one's HIV status and therefore going untreated while potentially highly infectious and possibly having unprotected sex.
It's important to point out some of the issues that Latinos specifically have to contend with as well.
Traditionally, Latinos are late testers with four out of 10 Latinos receiving both an HIV diagnosis and an AIDS diagnosis concurrently. Immigration and constant movement around the country also play a role. There are too many immigrants who do not have access to health care and who are not reached by the traditional prevention awareness programs. At the same time, there is a serious language barrier; for example, some AIDS service organizations (ASOs) geared toward Latinos lack Spanish-speaking employees. And finally, there are the issues with machismo, shame and religion that make it difficult to assess actual risk, get tested and disclose one's HIV status and sexual orientation.
In a New York Times op-ed titled "My Hopes, My Fears, My Disease," the late Dennis deLeon, the founder of the Latino Commission on AIDS, talked about how he wrestled with publicly disclosing his HIV status. He wrote, "There were always too many compelling reasons not to say anything. Every such excuse started with the word 'fear' -- fear of employment discrimination, fear of the politics of AIDS, fear of becoming a pariah."
These fears and their ability to dictate a person's life are crippling the community as a whole and undercutting the progress that is being made. One way to change this is to create spaces for Latinos living with HIV and those who dedicate their lives to working in the HIV/AIDS field to be more visible.
This is why we created our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Latinos.
By providing a diverse range of articles, first-person interviews and resources about HIV in the Latino community, our goal is to not only equip you with important information, but to also break down the barriers erected by stigma on behalf of everyone in the community. This is why this resource center is for everyone, not just those who are living with HIV. So, if you are a loved one or a caretaker of someone living with HIV, or you're simply interested in learning more about HIV, AIDS and safer sex, this is a place for you too.
- Our HIV & Me: A Guide to Living With HIV for Hispanics can help answer questions about when to start treatment, getting linked to care, finding support and how and when to disclose one's status to others. (Available in Spanish too.)
- Our Info and News section offers up current statistics and HIV prevention, treatment and policy news related to Latinos.
- Our Personal Perspectives section serves up interviews with Latinos who are living and surviving with HIV, thereby putting a face to the epidemic, helping to reduce stigma and reminding people that they are not alone.
- Our Movers & Shakers section highlights talented and dedicated individuals who are part of the driving force behind efforts to end the HIV epidemic in Latino communities.
- We have a great selection of Latino bloggers and columnists who discuss their take on current events, personal experiences and HIV policy.
- Our Special Reports section boasts exclusive roundtables, our Word on the Street slideshows and reports all related to Latinos.
We hope that our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Latinos inspires you to join the fight and become more educated about the disease. But most importantly, we hope that by putting a Latino face to the epidemic, it will remind you that you are never alone.