As we celebrate Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage Month and the many accomplishments of AAPIs, we also want to recognize that these communities still face many barriers to health and health care, including HIV/AIDS. To recognize these challenges, May 19th has been designated as the National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The theme for this year’s observance is: “Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV—for me, for you, for everyone.”
According to the Banyan Tree Project which founded the observance:
“Saving face” is a common cultural concept in A&PI communities, where individuals seek to protect the family from perceived public shame or disgrace. In practice, “saving face” contributes to silence about sex, HIV, and safe sex practices. Saving face and stigma also lead to higher rates of HIV infection and a lack of knowledge about one’s HIV status.
In addition to cultural challenges, many AAPIs in the United States experience economic and language barriers that contribute to discrimination and make HIV prevention, care, and treatment efforts even more challenging.
We are working to address some of the factors that contribute to a culture of silence and to health disparities in AAPI communities. And we are using new tools and technologies to help reach those at greatest risk for, or living with, HIV/AIDS.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continues to look for ways to bridge the difficulties that some AAPI individuals and communities have in accessing medical care. To that end, we recently issued enhanced National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (CLAS Standards), which guide health professionals and organizations in delivering culturally respectful and linguistically responsive care.
The enhanced CLAS Standards recognize that health is influenced by many factors, and the standards now include race, ethnicity, language, spirituality, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among others, in the definition of “culture.” Culturally and linguistically competent health care providers can play a major role in helping AAPIs (and other racial/ethnic minorities) to understand the impact of HIV in their communities and to take appropriate actions to protect themselves and their partners from HIV infection.
One of the first steps is to take an HIV test. You can find HIV testing services near you by using the AIDS.gov HIV Testing and Care Services Locator.
Another step is to receive treatment for HIV disease, because people who are taking HIV medications are much less likely to pass the virus on to their partners. Known as “treatment as prevention,” it is a key element in stopping the spread of HIV. To ensure that treatment is available to everyone who needs it, we are also working to expand healthcare availability and options to AAPI populations. The Affordable Care Act [PDF] will help to get people at risk for, or living with, HIV/AIDS the preventive services and treatment they need and reduce health disparities in AAPI communities.
For example, the Affordable Care Act has expanded coverage of free preventive care (including HIV screening and STD prevention counseling for adults at higher risk) to an estimated 3.8 million AAPIs with private insurance. These services will help those who are living with HIV (or an STD that can increase their risk for getting HIV) but don’t know it yet to learn their status and receive treatment if appropriate. And because of the health care law, millions of Americans will have the opportunity to get affordable, quality health coverage—including people living with HIV/AIDS, who have traditionally had great difficulty in obtaining health insurance.
Beginning October 1, 2013, Americans will be able to shop for coverage that best fits their needs and budget in the new Health Insurance Marketplace. Coverage will begin as early as January 1, 2014. Sign up now for information at https://signup.healthcare.gov.
Finally, the Department continues to broaden the use of technology and social media to reach populations at greatest risk for HIV. Studies show that English-speaking AAPIs have the highest rate of cell phone usage of any racial/ethnic group, and they are more likely to have wireless access than other groups. Under the guidance of the Digital Government Strategy, we are making it easier for everyone to find information on HIV prevention, testing, and treatment when they want it and on any device they choose. Given AAPI communities’ heavy use of mobile technologies, these efforts will provide particular benefits.
As we celebrate the diversity and contributions of AAPIs this month, I encourage you to talk to your family members, friends, and colleagues about HIV and to share information with them about available resources. A great conversation-starter is the Banyan Tree Project’s Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community” video series, which chronicles the experiences of AAPI people who are living with HIV.