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Latinos and AIDS
by Jocelyn Meermans
2003-09-01

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'Latinos represent almost a fifth of new infections in the United States and there's about 40,000 new HIV infections overall each year,' says Jennifer Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation HIV Relation Policy Project.

Kates and other speakers at a Kaiser Family Foundation briefing on Capital Hill about the rise in HIV/AIDS cases in the Latino community, point to lack of research funding, cultural awareness, education, and medical access to reasons for this increase, which is specifically evident where there are concentrations of recent immigrants.

'Because Latinos are the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in the U.S., addressing the epidemic among Latinos is addressing the overall health of the nation,' says Kates.

'We know that overall women are making up an increasing share of new AIDS cases and new HIV infections in the United States,' says Kates, which is 'more pronounced among Latinas.' Kates points to heterosexual contact as the primary way in which women are becoming infected, but insists that there are specific reasons why Latina women are becoming infected at a greater rate. Language barriers, as well as a lack of culturally relevant services contribute to a general lack of HIV/AIDS education in the Latino community. 'We are working with media partners such as Viacom and Univision to target Latinos with information and to reach Latinos through the media outlets they use, with information about HIV,' says Kates, which she hopes will encourage HIV/AIDS awareness.

Catalina Sol of the HIV/AIDS department of La Clinica del Pueblo, a community health organization in Washington, D.C., agrees with Kates and argues that providing culturally appropriate services is key to understanding the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Latino community. As a medical care provider, Sol says that 'obtaining the trust of our community' is an 'essential point in our success with our clients.' Sol says in Latin American countries, 'a whole lot of health-seeking behaviors are different. We have to learn an entirely new system of care once we come to this country.' Sol says that 90% of the patients at La Clinica del Pueblo are without insurance, and are excluded from Medicaid and Medicare programs because of their immigration status. This is important because Sol says that this limits choices of where Latinos can 'have linguistic and cultural access' to medical care.

Leo Rennie, Director of HIV services in NASTAD (National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors) says that even with programs like La Clinica del Pueblo, 'Latinos are more likely to delay care after HIV diagnosis' than other ethnic groups. Rennie says that lack of transportation, fear of deportation, and a negative stigma about HIV/AIDS are some reasons why Latinos are delaying HIV/AIDS testing and care.

Rennie argues that Latinos typically rely on community-based medical providers and that more research and funding is needed 'to expand the resources there are and make their services more readily available.' Rennie points to a University of California HIV/AIDS prevention study that reviewed 271 relevant studies, of which only 15 targeted Latinos. 'We really need to look at where Latino populations are increasing, where Latinos are living and try to figure out ... ways to bring more research into those communities for serving Latinos,' says Rennie. By increasing research specifically targeting Latinos, Rennie hopes that it will be easier to provide them with care and treatment services regardless of immigration or citizenship status or other cultural barriers.

Although experts agree that HIV/AIDS is a problem that is increasing in the Latino community, many possible explanations exist. Some insist that a lack of education about HIV/AIDS, while others say that the problem is that there isn't enough knowledge about the cultural differences regarding the treatment of illnesses. In order to reduce the cases of HIV/AIDS among Latinos, experts like Kates, Sol, and Rennie argue that we need to understand the reasons why Latinos are becoming infected more than other ethnic groups.

They say that this problem isn't just a Latino problem and until there is a cure, HIV/AIDS will continue to impact the lives of everyone.


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