Latino HIV/AIDS Advocacy Group Urges Testing

The National Latino AIDS Awareness Day initiative kicked off its campaign Wednesday to bring attention to HIV in the Hispanic community and encourage testing.

The Latino Commission on AIDS, which launched the effort in 2003 to raise awareness to the disproportionately high HIV rate in the Latino community, held a press conference on the steps of City Hall in New York City. It designated the day for October 15, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month.

"It's a call to action to encourage Latinos to protect themselves and protect the lives of their loved ones," said Melissa Faith Ramírez, NLAAD's director.

NLAAD's theme this year is Save a Life, It May be your Own. Get Tested for HIV, a drive aimed at getting Hispanics to focus on prevention education. About 19% of Hispanics in the country are living with HIV or AIDS, according to the group's Web site.

For Latinos, the virus progresses to the disease faster than any other racial or ethnic group, NLAAD says. Forty-two percent are diagnosed with AIDS within a year; only 34% and 35% of blacks and whites, respectively, are found to have the disease in that same time frame.

"We need to come together to reaffirm our commitment to increase HIV/AIDs awareness in all Hispanic communities in both Spanish and English," said Lillian Rodríguez-López, president of the Hispanic Federation. "We cannot miss anybody. HIV does not discriminate."

NLAAD last year teamed up with more than 400 partners to organize 350 events. It also donated 10,000 HIV testing kits throughout the country.

Since January, NLAAD has distributed 2,000 kits of tools and materials to universities, community-based organizations and health clinics, among other places. The goal is to get the information in the right hands, and make sure it's reaching men who have sex with men, pregnant women and teenagers, for example, as well as other target groups, Ramírez said.