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The Impact of HIV on the
Latino Population in the U.S.

Latinos in the United States have been hit hard by the HIV epidemic.

Here are the numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of 2007:

- Latinos accounted for 19% of new AIDS diagnoses in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, despite representing only 15% of the total U.S. population

- Latinos had the third highest rate of AIDS among all demographic groups, exceeded only by African-Americans and Native Hawaiians/ Pacific Islanders

- The rate of new AIDS diagnoses among Latino men is three times that of white men, and the rate among Latina women is five times that of white women

- By the end of 2007, an estimated 82,894 Latinos in the 50 states and the District of Columbia had died of AIDS How Do Latinos Get Infected with HIV?

Of course, there isn't just one "Latino community" in the United States. The term "Latino"refers to a person whose family is from a Spanish-speaking country, regardless of race. So the Latino population in the United States is very diverse - and so are the predominant means of infection.

CDC data suggest that Latinos born in Puerto Rico are more likely than other Latinos to be infected by HIV as a result of injection drug use or high-risk heterosexual contact (which is defined as "sex with a person known to have or be at risk for HIV infection"). By contrast, sex with other men is the primary cause of HIV infections among Latino men born in Central or South America, Cuba, Mexico, or the United States.

Overall, for Latino males, the most common methods of transmission cited by the CDC were:

- Sex with other men

- Injection drug use

- High-risk heterosexual contact

For Latina females, the most common methods of transmission were high-risk heterosexual contact and injection drug use.

Why is the Rate of Infection among Latinos so High?

There is no single "smoking gun" that explains why the rate of infection is so high in the Latino population. Instead, experts believe a constellation of factors is responsible.

1. Denial When AIDS was first identified, it was thought of as a disease that affected white male homosexuals. As a result, many Latinos did not think they were at risk. Unfortunately, this denial continues, compounded by the cultural expectation that all Latino men are "macho." Many Latinos still cannot bring themselves to admit that gay Latinos exist.

2. Lack of Condom use. HIV advocates promoting condom use in the Latino communities have an uphill battle on their hands. Part of the resistance to condoms is due to the teachings of the Catholic church, which prohibits condom use. Part of it is a feeling among Latinos that condoms take away from the intimacy of sex. In five studies of gay and bi-sexual men cited by the CDC, gay Latino men had the lowest incidence of condom use of all demographic groups.

3. The Language Barrier Of course, there are HIV educational materials printed in Spanish - but not nearly as many as are available in English! In general, the level of knowledge of basic facts about HIV is very low among Latinos, largely because the information is not widely available in Spanish. In addition, the language barrier makes it hard for Latinos to access basic health care resources.

4. Socio-economic factors Poverty, transience, lack of formal education, lack of health insurance, and lack of access to health care are all factors that put Latinos at high risk for HIV.

5. Fear of Deportation For Latinos in the United States without documentation, fear of being identified as an illegal and deported keep them from interacting with any branch of the government - including the health care system. For undocumented workers with HIV, deportation can be a death sentence if they are returned to a country where HIV treatment is not available.

All these factors add up, and they take their toll. The net result is that, in Texas - a state with a high Latino population - 34% of Latinos diagnosed with HIV are diagnosed with AIDS within one month. Since HIV typically takes ten years to progress to AIDS, that means they have been unknowingly spreading the virus for a decade. In addition, since HIV is much easier to treat early than it is once it has progressed to AIDS, their health outcomes are much worse.

What Can Be Done?

President Obama recently released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The "Vision" for the new strategy states: "The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstances, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination." The strategy to implement this vision calls for the U.S. to "Intensify HIV prevention efforts in communities where HIV is most heavily concentrated," and the strategy specifically recognizes Latinos and Latinas as a population at high risk.

Hopefully, this strategy will be put into action, and it will be successful. But there is no magic wand that can wipe away all the barriers that put Latinos at increased risk of HIV. It's up to all Latinos to educate themselves, protect themselves, get tested, and seek out high-quality health care if they are infected.


Copyright 2015, Positive Health Publications, Inc.

This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!