An Unspoken Menace Threatens Latinos
It sends Latinos to the hospital and the cemetery at a higher rate than violent criminals, and yet in the Hispanic community, most people don't like to talk about it.
It's "el SIDA," the Spanish name for the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and it continues to pose a major threat to the health and well-being of Latinos in the United States, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But it also continues to be a taboo subject in a community where many people are in denial of the threat it represents. While the rest of the U.S. population has learned to deal with this devastating illness by discussing it openly, Latinos often are held back by cultural values that prevent them from speaking out candidly about other topics that are related to HIV/AIDS — sex, homosexuality, drug addiction and even death.
Because of the machismo that is prevalent in the Hispanic community, there is a stigma associated with male-to-male sex and a misconception that leads many to believe that all HIV/AIDS cases stem from homosexuality. As a result of such fallacies and their failure to discuss the threat, Latinos continue to be infected disproportionately by "el SIDA."
While Latinos now represent almost 15 percent of the U.S. population, they were almost 20 percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS in 2005. After blacks, Latinos continue to have the second-highest rate of HIV diagnoses among all racial and ethnic groups in the country.
According to the CDC analysis of data from 33 states reporting figures of HIV cases from 2001 until 2005, of 184,167 diagnosed cases among adults and adolescents, 18 percent were Latinos; 51 percent were non-Hispanic blacks; 29 percent were non-Hispanic whites; 1 percent were Asians; and 1 percent were Native Americans.
But Latinos don't even want to think about it. They are scared of being tested and, as a result of their denial, they are not being as careful as they should be.
The CDC study found that the mode of HIV infection for 61 percent of Hispanic males was male-to-male sexual contact.
For Hispanic women, injection drug use was responsible for 23 percent of the HIV cases, and high-risk heterosexual contact accounted for 76 percent of the infections.
Those infection patterns were also found to vary greatly, depending on where the patients were born. The report says infection through male-to-male sexual contact was more common among Latinos born in the U.S., South America, Cuba and Mexico; heterosexual infection, among those born in Central America and the Dominican Republic; and injection drug use, among those born in Puerto Rico. These findings show the importance of tailoring HIV prevention efforts to the needs of a multiethnic Latino community.
The CDC also found great disparity according to U.S. geography. In those 33 states reporting HIV cases in 2005, infection among Hispanics was estimated at 173 cases per 100,000 persons. But those estimates ranged from 34.3 per 100,000 in Wyoming, to 443 per 100,000 in New York. And as for those living with AIDS in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the rate for Latinos was 244.2 per 100,000, and the range went form 28.7 per 100,000 persons in Montana, to 1,165.8 per 100,000 in Washington, D.C.
Armed with this new information, on Monday, Oct. 15, Latino community organizations across the country observed the fifth annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, a mobilization campaign designed to confront the cultural barriers and misconceptions that contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS among Latinos.
More than 1,000 organizations in more than 300 cities held activities to promote HIV testing and prevention initiatives. They produced public service announcements and conducted health fairs, news conferences, candlelight vigils and religious services. By making HIV/AIDS more visible and less of a taboo subject, activists are trying to arrest a mass murderer that is loose in their community.
"The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to devastate our Latino community," said Dennis deLeon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS. "More than 77,000 Latinos/Hispanics have died due to AIDS. We must respond united in voice and action to this devastation."
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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