Area Latinos targeted for AIDS/HIV education

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AIDS newsBy Delen Goldberg, The Post Standard, 11 Oct 2006

Local health officials say the numbers don't make sense.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing population in the nation, and HIV and AIDS are spreading rapidly among the group.

In Central New York, the Latino population also is booming but health workers aren't seeing the number of HIV and AIDS cases they expect.

"We believe there are more people in the Hispanic community that haven't been tested and don't know their status," said Rick Priebe, director of support services for AIDS Community Resources. "We believe there's a higher incidence (of HIV and AIDS) than we are seeing."

Health officials hope to combat that lack of testing and information tonight, with a community outreach event designed to teach local Hispanics about

Did you know? Ö Hispanics made up less than 14 percent of the U.S. population but account for 19 percent of HIV cases diagnosed since the beginning of the epidemic. Ö In New York state, more than 28 percent of people with HIV and almost 31 percent of people with AIDS are Hispanic. Ö The leading cause of HIV in Hispanic men is sexual contact with other men, followed by injection drug use and heterosexual contact. The leading cause of HIV in Hispanic women is heterosexual contact, followed by injection drug use. Sources: AIDS Community Resources; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV/AIDS and risky behaviors.

In New York state, more than 28 percent of people with HIV and almost 31 percent of people with AIDS are Hispanic. In Central New York, health workers attribute only about 10 percent of HIV/AIDS cases to Hispanics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Advocates and health workers say the discrepancy comes from a lack of HIV/AIDS testing and education in the area's Hispanic communities.

"We should probably be seeing closer to 15 or 18 percent (incidence)," Priebe said. "We think there's a population that we don't know about out there. Our suspicion is that most of those people don't know they are HIV positive. And that's very dangerous. People who don't know they are infected are less likely to take precautions."

Minorities in general far outpace whites in incidences of HIV and AIDS. Statewide, for instance, blacks represent 45 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS. Still, differences among ethnic groups make each community's struggle with the disease unique.

So why are HIV and AIDS thriving in the Hispanic community? Health officials offer several explanations:

Language:

Language differences often can prevent people from seeking proper medical care. Doctors and clinics can be hard to find while searching a phone book in a foreign tongue, and non-English-speaking patients might find it difficult to explain their problems or concerns to a doctor. Language barriers also can hamper HIV/AIDS education and outreach efforts.

Culture:

Machismo, or a sense of manliness, plays a large role in many Hispanic cultures. As a result, some members of the Hispanic community might be reluctant to identify themselves as gay, CDC studies say. That presents health officials with a challenge when trying to educate people about homosexuality and safe sex.

Said Priebe: "There are a variety of cultural issues that prompt people not to be tested and that work against the idea of condoms."

Poverty:

U.S. Census figures show that more than 1 in 5 Hispanics live in poverty. With a low income, finding high-quality health care can be difficult.

Local advocates want the situation to change. They want to see their Latino neighbors being tested for HIV and AIDS. They want to hear conversations about the disease. They want leaders to emerge from the community.

That's why members of the Hispanic Outreach Initiative will host the Lucha dinner meeting tonight, during which two Spanish-speaking doctors will answer people's questions about HIV and AIDS. Testing also will be available.

Lucha, which in Spanish means "struggle," stands for Latinos United Challenging AIDS. Organizers hope at least 60 people attend the event.

"It's definitely a necessary push," Priebe said. "We hope those people will go back into their communities and talk with their family and friends."

Delen Goldberg can be reached at dgoldberg@syracuse.com or 470-2274.

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