A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that, while HIV infections among Hispanics or Latinos in the U.S. have decreased overall, the virus still disproportionately affects the community. And HIV diagnoses among Hispanic or Latino men who have sex with men (MSM) have increased significantly.
In its Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR), released on Oct. 8, the CDC states that between 2008 and 2013 the rate of HIV diagnoses in the Hispanic or Latino community fell from 28.3 to 24.3 per 100,000 individuals. Nevertheless, in 2013, the HIV diagnosis rate in this group was nearly three times higher than that of non-Hispanic whites.
According to the report, during the 2008-2013 period "the number of diagnoses among [Hispanic or Latino] males with infection attributed to male-to-male sexual contact increased 16%." However, the CDC says that they cannot determine if the higher number of diagnoses is due to an actual increase in HIV cases among Hispanic or Latino MSM, an increase in HIV testing among members of this group or a combination of both factors.
In addition, despite a dramatic drop in HIV infection rates among injection drug users nationwide during the past decade, the CDC reports that Latinos born in the U.S. and Puerto Rico "had a greater proportion of HIV infections attributed to injection drug use than those born elsewhere."
However, most infections among Hispanic or Latino men were attributable to male-to-male sexual contact "irrespective of place of birth, ranging from a low of 53.6% among persons born in Puerto Rico to a high of 86.4% among persons born in South America," the CDC adds. Notably, in 2013, overall rates of HIV diagnosis in Hispanics or Latinos were more than six times higher among men than among women.
Based on these figures, the CDC acknowledges that "much work still needs to be done to reach Hispanics or Latinos at high risk for acquiring or transmitting HIV infection." The agency says it is pursuing "a high-impact prevention approach to maximize the effectiveness of current HIV prevention methods."
In Philadelphia, GALAEI offers HIV testing, prevention and a diverse array of programs to the city's Latino population. TheBody.com spoke with GALAEI Executive Director Elicia Gonzales about HIV prevention in this community as CDC prepared to release their new analysis.
"We fail to recognize and fund efforts to address social determinants that impact HIV and continue to insist on talking about individual risk factors for Latinos," she lamented upon hearing the new CDC data. "When funding is only limited to getting someone tested and linked to care, we neglect that person's need for food, shelter and clothing."
"We cannot do this work in a vacuum and only work with the community to get them tested and linked," Gonzales concluded. "We have to address the other very real needs that bring people to our agency."
In their report, the CDC stresses the importance of considering language, service and economic barriers when developing HIV prevention interventions that seek to reach diverse Hispanic or Latino communities. Forty-three percent of Hispanics who received an HIV diagnosis were immigrants to the United States, they note.
In terms of injection drug use, Gonzales added that "multiple systems of oppression impact black and brown bodies differently so that, to cope, one might turn to drugs. We know this area [in North Philly] to be popular for heroin, and this area is heavily Latino. Undoubtedly, we have to consider the role that a failing school system, lack of adequately paying jobs [and] the prison pipeline all [play in] drug use and HIV transmission."
Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His work often focuses on HIV/AIDS, cultural stigmas and social problems. You can follow him on Twitter @jawshkruger.