National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (October 15)
“Latinos Unite! Stay Healthy! Get Tested for HIV!”
Statement by Kevin A. Fenton, MD Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Thirty years of fighting HIV and AIDS is a long time, but we can’t allow our resolve to weaken. Approximately 1 in 50 Latinos in America can expect to be diagnosed with HIV in his or her lifetime. Among Latino men, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 81 percent of infections occur among gay and bisexual men, with the largest number of new infections among gay and bisexual men under the age of 30, compared to other age groups. HIV infection rates among Latino men are almost three times higher than white men. Infection rates among Latinas are four times higher than among white women.
National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) provides a powerful opportunity to call the nation’s attention to these stark statistics, and to focus on the actions we can take to turn the tide and begin reducing the number of people infected with HIV every year.
NLAAD 2011 focuses on the importance of HIV testing – and rightly so. CDC recommends that all adolescents and adults get tested for HIV, regardless of whether they think they are at risk. Getting an HIV test is one of the simplest and most effective things we all can do to take control of our health. Simply put, knowing your status – and getting treated if you are infected – can save your life.
Yet today in the United States, about 1 in 5 Latinos infected with HIV doesn’t know it. That’s because more than half of Latinos have never been tested. In the United States, the majority of new HIV infections occur when people who aren’t aware they have the virus unknowingly transmit it to others – so increasing the number of Latinos who get tested for HIV is critical to stopping HIV in Latino communities.
Many factors place Latinos at increased risk for HIV infection, including homophobia, stigma and the already high prevalence of the virus in Latino communities. The disproportionate burden of HIV in these communities increases the likelihood that Latinos will encounter an HIV-infected sex or drug-injecting partner. Additionally, the stark reality of some Latinos’ lives can also result in increased risk of infection. For instance, about one third of Latinos are uninsured and one quarter live in poverty. Latinas also face problems resulting from HIV, such as traditional gender roles that may prevent them from confronting at-risk behavior of their male partner.
We know that people who don’t have the means to see a doctor or can’t afford the basics in life are less likely to receive an HIV test or treatment until late in the course of the disease, when effective, life-extending treatment options may be limited. And the stigma associated with homosexuality in many Latino communities keeps HIV hidden in the closet, preventing many gay and bisexual men from seeking the prevention services they need.
Those who migrate to the United States from other countries also often face unique challenges to HIV prevention. Language barriers can affect access to and quality of care. And separation from loved ones may result in feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can lead to increased risk behavior (such as new or multiple sex partners, or substance use).
Fighting HIV among Latinos is one of CDC’s top HIV prevention priorities. We are working to ensure that every prevention dollar has maximum impact, and that our approaches to HIV prevention are as diverse as the Latino community itself.
On this National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, I call on government, communities and individuals alike to each do our part to confront the challenges, myths and fears that place Latinos at high risk for HIV. Latino communities must work together to tear down the barriers that prevent too many from seeking testing, treatment and support. And all of us owe it to ourselves to get the facts about HIV, honestly evaluate our personal risk, take the necessary steps to reduce our risk and most importantly – get tested.
For more information on HIV, please visit www.actagainstaids.org or www.cdc.gov/hiv. To find HIV testing locations near you, please call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit www.hivtest.org.