HIV among the Latino community is on the rise with Latinos representing 21% of all new HIV infections, yet only 13% of the U.S. population. It is estimated that 23% of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States in 2012 were Latinos. The rate of HIV infection in Latinos is more than three times that of non- Hispanic whites. Latino’s are usually in later stages of HIV disease when diagnosed and experience significant barriers to treatment. The CDC reports that 54.8% of Latinos living with HIV are retained in treatment with 43.3% prescribed antiretroviral treatment and 35.6% achieving viral suppression. Risk factors attributed to Latinos are intravenous drug use, multiple sexual partners and male- to- male transmission.
It’s common in Latino communities to not openly discuss HIV. This is mainly due to a taboo surrounding homosexuality which, in this community, is often mistakenly viewed as the only mode of HIV transmission. Many Latinos may feel that they do not need to educate themselves or be concerned with contracting HIV if they are heterosexual. Others who feel they may be at risk fear being tested as they are concerned that family and friends may find out or assume that they are gay if they test positive. This leads to a lack of discussion, education, testing, treatment/care and continued stigmatization and isolation for those at risk or who are already HIV positive.
Due to these cultural beliefs, it is not common for churches in Latino communities to offer services or counseling to those who feel they may be at risk for contracting HIV, again leading to further isolation through a lack of support systems within the community. Fortunately, Latinos are recognized as an ‘at risk’ population by the CDC and, as such, programs at AIDS service organizations offer some assistance. However, with 1 in every 36 Latino men and 1 in every 106 Latino women diagnosed with HIV, these programs may not be enough. Involvement by more churches in Latino neighborhoods could help to curb infections by providing education, support and guidance.
by Anil Singh