OPINION

Opinion: The battle against HIV among Hispanics is far from over

MADISON, WI -  MARCH 10:  Jessica Dias, associate research specialist, at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison removes a new batch of Embryonic Stem Cells from deep freeze to be thawed before being worked on March 10, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin.  On March 9, 2009 President Barack Obama signed an order reversing the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem cell research. Scientists at the University Wisconsin-Madison, who were the first to experiment in finding cures to neurological and muscular diseases through stem cell research, are now hoping to receive federal funding to aid in their work. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

MADISON, WI - MARCH 10: Jessica Dias, associate research specialist, at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center at University Wisconsin-Madison removes a new batch of Embryonic Stem Cells from deep freeze to be thawed before being worked on March 10, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin. On March 9, 2009 President Barack Obama signed an order reversing the Bush administration's limits on human embryonic stem cell research. Scientists at the University Wisconsin-Madison, who were the first to experiment in finding cures to neurological and muscular diseases through stem cell research, are now hoping to receive federal funding to aid in their work. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)  (2009 Getty Images)

HIV remains a critical public health concern among Hispanics in the United States and Puerto Rico. 

An estimated 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 106 Hispanic women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime. Hispanic men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white non-Hispanic males and the rate among Hispanic women is almost four times greater than white non-Hispanic females. 

Unfortunately, Hispanics are more likely to test late for HIV partly due to stigma and shame associated with the disease, as well as barriers to accessing care. Hispanics have also been slow to adopt the innovation of PrEP as a prevention tool, in part because campaigns and messaging have not been culturally responsive. 

- Dr. David Garcia

Puerto Rico ranks eighth among the top ten areas with the highest rates of diagnosed HIV infection in 2013. Given that Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority group, addressing HIV/AIDS in their community is crucial to the nation’s health.

The good news is that from 2008 to 2013, the rate of diagnoses of HIV infections in the United States decreased among Hispanics. This is further supported by the combined prevention efforts of community-based organizations, health departments, and government agencies implementing the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy, introduced historically in July 2010. 

It is clear that a coordinated national prevention response against HIV is contributing to prevention success.

Further, our public health strategies have evolved to create more cost-effective substantial impact. Among those strategies is the use of HIV surveillance data to better inform and advance HIV prevention efforts. We know that when individuals are linked to care and taking their HIV medication, they can live longer, healthier lives and reduce the risk of transmission to others.

More good news for HIV prevention efforts that can benefit Hispanics include the innovation of a successful biomedical intervention known as PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. PrEP is a daily pill known as Truvada that when taken every day can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent. It is a powerful HIV prevention tool that when combined with condoms and other prevention methods, can greatly increase protection from HIV.

However, more work needs to be done to effectively reach Hispanics with HIV prevention efforts. Despite the decrease of overall cases among Hispanics from 2008 to 2013, an increase of 16 percent occurred among Hispanic men who have sex with men (MSM). 

Among Hispanics in the United States, MSM continue to bear the greatest burden and younger men are most at-risk. In Puerto Rico, the face of the epidemic varies as the leading transmission category is among injecting substance users followed by MSM.

Unfortunately, Hispanics are more likely to test late for HIV partly due to stigma and shame associated with the disease, as well as barriers to accessing care. Hispanics have also been slow to adopt the innovation of PrEP as a prevention tool, in part because campaigns and messaging have not been culturally responsive. 

Barriers include socioeconomic issues such as poverty, employment opportunity, education level, linguistic isolation, and insurance coverage that compound the health care access of Hispanics.

With all this in mind, October 15th, National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD), is an opportunity for communities to mobilize by participating in a social marketing campaign to create awareness in response to the impact of HIV and AIDS among Hispanics. 

This year’s theme, “YOU & I WILL DEFEAT AIDS/TU Y YO VAMOS A DERROTAR AL SIDA,” empowers communities to address HIV stigma, seek HIV testing, and among those diagnosed and out of care to reengage in treatment to promote a healthier Hispanic community. 

Getting screened for HIV is crucial to the health of all Hispanics and being diagnosed with HIV is not a death sentence. Early detection leads to better health outcomes, provided one adheres to medication regimens and remains in care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that among the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, more than 220,000 are among Hispanics.

Since 2003, the Latino Commission on AIDS, in conjunction with local, regional, and national partners, actively coordinates NLAAD. Although we are making progress in the battle against HIV among Hispanics, more needs to be done and we need your support. 

For more information on how you can participate, please visit www.nlaad.org and www.latinoaids.org.

Dr. David Garcia is Director of Capacity Building, Research and Evaluation at the Latino Commission on AIDS.

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