Consider the following for a second: We are thirty years into the HIV/AIDS Epidemic, the International AIDS Conference just returned to the United States for the first time in 20 years, and we have our first ever National AIDS Strategy. Does it seem to you, at times, that we are still trying to play catch up with the epidemic?
In light of the National AIDS Strategy, released 2010, we must Renew, Refocus and Reengage key partnerships and our hermanas y hermanos in the diverse Latino communities throughout the United States if we are to reach an AIDS-Free generation. By renewing, refocusing and re-engaging our commitments we can insure that the diverse need of Latinos across the United States are considered and addressed. Part of that strategy entails enhancing the Latino HIV epidemiology and surveillance data in the US. Many Latinos are still not included in these datasets and thus we have an incomplete picture of how this epidemic is truly impacting our communities. In order to keep in the public consciousness, Latinos have to be at the table. While it was a great step to have the International AIDS Conference (IAC) back on US soil, Latinos overall, were left out of the major discussions and barely any data in the session programs included Hispanics/Latinos. How are we to make progress if Latinos are not part of these scientific advancement discussions?
Let me throw out a few more numbers. Hispanic/Latinos are now 16.4% of the US population-one in every 6 individuals is a Hispanic in the United States. Ten of the states with the fastest growing Hispanic population are in the Deep South. For example, South Carolina saw over 147% Hispanic growth in the past decade. Furthermore, the Deep South is seeing an increase in its HIV incidence rate. Where does this leave the emerging Hispanic Population-the fastest growing ethnic group- in the United States-in regards to the HIV/AIDS epidemic? They are left in the cross-hairs of the epidemic.
Back to the numbers. Latinos/Hispanics constitute 20% of new HIV infections and a larger percentage of Hispanics progress to AIDS within a year of HIV diagnosis than other groups. Listen to this: Hispanic males are 3 times as likely to have AIDS as compared to white males. Furthermore, Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely than non-Hispanic white males to die of HIV (CDC 2010). What about Hispanic women? They were 4.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white females. What does this all mean?
Hispanics are a growing part of our communities. They are ostensibly the future of the United States yet they are lacking access to healthcare. Hispanics in the United States are already experiencing an unemployment rate of 10.3% and the Hispanic poverty rate is 26.7% which provides structural barriers to accessing healthcare. For healthier communities and a healthier, vibrant United States we must address the health disparities- including access to healthcare system (and ostensibly health insurance)-that exist in the Hispanic communities.
We should note that the pending “sequestration”- the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that will take place January 2, 2013 unless Congress and the President come to an agreement will cause major upheaval in social welfare safety nets across the country. There has been no agreement on how $1.2 trillion in budget cuts will occur. It is supposed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government agencies will receive 8% cuts which in turn will trickle down to communities. What will happen to the HIV/AIDS funding going forward?
Here is one last set of numbers to ponder. This is the 10 year commemoration of National Latino AIDS Awareness Day: A day to raise awareness and unify Latinos in the fight against HIV/AIDS. By the end of 2008, an estimated 111,438 Latinos with an AIDS diagnosis has died in the United States and dependent territories. In 2007, HIV was the fourth leading cause of death among Latinos aged 35-44 and the sixth leading cause of death among Latinos aged 25-34 in the US. Latinos are the youngest population in the United States yet HIV poses a problem to this young Latino population. We are at a crossroads: emerging population, rising incidence rates, high unemployment and poverty rates and looming federal budget cuts.
We must Renew, Refocus, and Reengage our commitment to addressing HIV/AIDS and health disparities in the Latino communities across the United States: For This is exactly the time where we must renew our commitment to strengthening our communities. This is exactly the time when we must refocus and hone our efforts to ensure we have clear achievable goals. This is exactly the time when we must re-engage our communities in dialogues centered around solutions and strategies that are action-oriented. Hilary Clinton noted that we “know which road we need to take” and again, I add that road must go through the deep south and must go through the diverse Latino Communities in the United States.