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Study: Latino HIV Silence a Grave Concern
by Amy Wooten

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Increased advocacy regarding the growing problem of HIV/AIDS within the Illinois Latino community needs to take place immediately, according to a new local study.

The report, presented by the Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness ( a coalition of local health groups ) on Oct. 15, National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, shows disproportionate rates of infection among Illinois Latinos, and provides recommendations for expanding advocacy. Local activists and agencies stressed the need to increase visibility of the issue, support local organizations, increase funding and expand community involvement in politics. With the continued growth of the Latino community in Illinois and beyond, community leaders say something needs to be done.

'The continued inattention [ to ] HIV/AIDS in our community is unacceptable,' said Miguel Palacio, associate director of Association House and co-chair of the Community of Wellness.

According to Andre Rawls, the Illinois Department of Public Health's ( IDPH's ) chief of the HIV/AIDS section, the epidemic in the Latino community is 'showing to be a serious threat.' Nanette Benbow, Chicago Department of Public Health's director of surveillance, epidemiology and research section, calls it an 'epidemic of grave concern.'

Latinos are affected by HIV/AIDS in disproportionate rates in Illinois and beyond. According to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control, the disease is the fourth-leading cause of death among Latinos aged 35 to 44.

In Illinois, Latinos have made up 13 percent of all newly reported HIV cases for the past three years, IDPH reported. Also, Illinois Latinos with HIV/AIDS die at higher rates, the study revealed. In 2006, they represented 12 percent of Illinois HIV/AIDS-related deaths, an increase from 8 percent in 2005.

The disease is often discovered later in life, according to CDPH, making it 45 percent more likely that Latinos will have AIDS when first tested for HIV than whites. Also, 40 percent of Latinos diagnosed as HIV-positive will progress to AIDS within five years, but most of those progress within one month. This suggests, the study says, that Latinos are not only disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS in Illinois, but may experience difficulty in accessing healthcare.

The key, Joanne Montes of CALOR told the crowd, is to speak up. 'We know HIV is here; we know AIDS exists, but we're choosing to ignore it,' she said. 'Everything has changed, it will continue to change, and we need to change to address complacency.'

Second, community organizations, which are the 'first line of defense,' need to be supported and enhanced. Third, in order for this to happen, there needs to be more adequate, long-term funding. The study also recommended that the Latino community become more politically involved. Montes told the audience that she feels everyone is an 'open letter,' just waiting to share his or her stories.

Following the above recommendations, community leaders feel change can start to take place. 'I think there are a number of ways we can collaborate, and the sky is the limit,' Benbow said.

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