LatinaLista — Today marks the 20th anniversary of the observance of World AIDS Day.
In 20 years, a lot of progress has been made in educating local and state governments and the general public about the existence of the disease. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that the majority of people do know about it.
Yet, what continues to be discouraging is that the disease is still spreading. For some cultures, particularly Latino, there is a stigma so closely associated with the disease that it prevents people from being diagnosed and seeking treatment.
When that occurs, the inevitable happens — more are infected. However, among Spanish-speakers in some sections of the United States there is also another cause for infected Latinos to not receive treatment — a serious lack of access to those services.
This morning, the Latino Commission on AIDS released the report Shaping the New Response: HIV/AIDS and Latinos in the Deep South.
The report reveals disturbing news:
There is a crisis in seven southern states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — among HIV-infected Latinos unable to access prevention services.
Some 2 million Latino residents of the seven states covered by the Commission’s “Deep South Project” face severe limitations in their access to health care of any sort, a major obstacle to HIV/AIDS prevention and care efforts. While immigrants encounter discrimination in daily life, states too often are stepping up re-
strictions designed to exclude them from government services instead of incorporating new Latino communities into public health-promotion efforts and addressing their specific needs and vulnerabilities.
Throughout the region HIV infection and AIDS cases are rising at an alarming rate among Latino populations while prevention education lags behind. Access to HIV-related medical care is complicated by
fear, stigma and, for the undocumented, a variety of administrative, practical and legal obstacles.
Latinos often discover they are HIV-positive only at a late stage of infection as a result of serious illness or
through pre-natal screening. In many communities pregnancy-related care is the main avenue for detect-
ing cases of HIV among Latinos, including men.
The increasing visibility of anti-immigrant sentiment makes Latinos’ distrustful of health departments and
medical providers, which weakens campaigns to promote public health.
Interventions targeting gay Latinos or other Latino men who have sex with men are rare in the South.
If there is one bright spot to the discouraging report is that the authors outline several ways local and state agencies can reverse this deadly upward trend.
Of course, the only way for those recommendations to be effective is if legislators recognize that the problem isn’t confined to the Latino communities and it’s only a matter of time before non-Latinos are also impacted.
For the sake of the health of the WHOLE community, it stands to reason that it makes more sense to aggressively create policies to implement prevention strategies than to believe more punitive immigration measures will make it go away.
That’s not just wishful thinking, it’s delusional thinking.