As National Latino AIDS Awareness Day approaches on October 15, I invite all of you to help change the course of HIV in Hispanic/Latino communities. Hispanics/Latinos represent one-sixth of the U.S. population, but account for over one-fifth of the nation’s new HIV infections. A number of challenges increase the burden of disease in these communities, such as limited access to health care, language or cultural barriers, stigma, and discrimination.
The graph above shows that among Latinos in the United States who have been diagnosed with HIV, just over half were retained in medical care. Also, less than half are receiving anti-HIV drugs. As a result, only slightly more than one-third have their HIV infection under control. Having HIV under control means that HIV infection is suppressed to a level where one can stay healthy and active, while greatly reducing the risk of passing the virus to others.
These findings, reported in this week’s MMWR from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raise many concerns about the health of Latinos in the United States, but the good news is that we have many tools to treat HIV infection, keep it under control, and help prevent its spread. The new CDC data also show that Latinos have higher percentages of entry into and retention in medical care, as well as prescriptions for anti-HIV medicines (antiretroviral therapy, or ART), compared to all persons with HIV. This is a very positive sign, as treatment is a necessary first step in controlling the spread of HIV.
Still, these tools are not getting to all who need them. We need to find and correct the problems that are keeping too many Hispanic/Latino men and women with HIV out of treatment. The burden of HIV among Latinos is a complex issue, with no simple remedy.
As part of our efforts to prevent new infections and get those living with infection into treatment, CDC’s national campaign, We Can Stop HIV One Conversation at a Time/Podemos Detener el VIH Una Conversación a la Vez, is intended to increase awareness and promote discussion of HIV among Latinos. Two other campaigns, Reasons/Razones and Let’s Stop HIV Together/Detengamos Juntos el VIH, address prevention among Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men.
National Latino AIDS Awareness Day is an important reminder, and this year I call for us to re-double our efforts to improve the health of Latinos in the United States. Together we can increase HIV awareness, educate every new generation about HIV, promote prevention and treatment, ensure access to treatment and care, and support staying in care in every community.