HIV/AIDS hits hard in Latino community

According to a Washington Post article by Ceci Connolly, published on June 23, “AIDS rates in the [United States’s] Latino community are increasing and, with little notice, have reached what experts are calling a simmering public health crisis.”

The article presents an image of a hidden emergency: “Though Hispanics make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population, they represented 22 percent of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses tallied by federal officials in 2006,” yet HIV/AIDS in this population “has mostly been overshadowed by the epidemic among African Americans and gay white men.”

The problem of HIV/AIDS among Latinos is beginning to attract more attention from public health organizations such as the CDC.  Social and cultural issues distinct to the Latino community make the situation especially difficult to deal with.  According to the Washington Post,

Blacks still have the highest HIV rates in the country, but language difficulties, cultural barriers and, in many cases, issues of legal status make the threat in the Hispanic community unique. For those who arrived illegally, in particular, fear of arrest and deportation presents a daunting obstacle to seeking diagnosis and treatment.  […]

“You combine the economic pressures, loneliness and immigration worries, and it pushes these individuals to be a hidden population,” said Frank Galvan of the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.  […]

The nexus of AIDS and migration — the reality that viruses know no borders — will gain fresh prominence at the International AIDS Conference next month in Mexico City. It is a nexus that plays out in dramatic fashion in San Ysidro and other communities along the U.S.-Mexican border, where the tensions associated with immigration tend to exacerbate an already stigmatized illness.

The article also discusses particular challenges faced by women and gay men in the Latino community, revealed through several personal stories.

For some further perspective on this article and HIV/AIDS in the Latino community, I turned to David Michael, a college friend who founded Kenosis, a campus organization focused on ministering to people living with HIV/AIDS in the local Latino community.  He offered the following comments.  (He refers several times to details mentioned in the Washington Post — if something isn’t making sense to you, check the article.)  Here’s David:

1) The article stated that 1 in 4 gay Latinos may have HIV.  It wouldn’t surprise me.  It’s still really taboo to be gay in the Latino community, so many of them are on the DL, and therefore practicing unsafe sex.

2) I wouldn’t be surprised the rate of infection is far greater than the twenty-ish percent that the article quoted.  AIDS is incredibly taboo in the Latino community, so many people probably do not get tested or come forth if they know they have it.  But beyond that, how many Latinos would avoid being tested because of their undocumented status?  The article hints at that with the story of [Rosario Vargas — her story appears on pp. 3-4 of the article]. 

3) The article suggested that the problem was being overlooked.  In a sense, no.  At the CDC conference I went to [a few years ago], there were numerous presentations on the problem.  Everyone in the AIDS field knows that AIDS among minorities, Latinos included, is ballooning.  I do think that AIDS programming money is directed away from Latinos and African Americans, though.  And this is where you get into the politics of advocacy.   In Chicago, most of the AIDS money is controlled by the Chicago AIDS Foundation.  Who were the first to get hit hard with AIDS?  The gay, white community.  Therefore, the majority of the programs are geared towards the Boystown crowd and the majority of the people controlling the money are invested in that crowd.  So the South Side of Chicago, for instance, gets ignored.  [Boystown is a well-recognized GLBT community in Chicago; the South Side of Chicago is an ethnically diverse and, broadly speaking, less wealthy area of Chicago.]

4) Apart from the mention of the priest asking that woman what sort of life she had led that God would punish her (a valid question, I think, except for the God punishing her bit), there was not a whole lot of discussion about Catholicism.  And that, I think, plays a huge part.  Whether or not everyone is devout, most Latinos are at least culturally Catholic.  Of course, sex is taboo there.  And then, admitting you have AIDS is on par with an admission of sin to most of these people.  [Several of the people interviewed in the article mention the strong association of HIV/AIDS with sin in their communities.]

Many thanks to David for his guest writing and commentary.

This is the second major article I’ve seen this week that discusses HIV/AIDS in specific populations within the United States (the other looks at AIDS in the rural South).

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~ by h.e.g. on July 24, 2008.

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