World AIDS Day 2012: Communities of Color and an AIDS-Free Generation

World AIDS Day 2012: Communities of Color and an AIDS-Free Generation

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Today is World AIDS Day, a day used globally to bring awareness, share information, de-stigmatize HIV and AIDS, and remember those who have died. The day is the brainchild of James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter, two public information officers for the Global Programme on AIDS who credited the day back in 1987. Since then, every year has it’s own theme and focus. This year that theme is “Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation”.

That goal is a harder one to reach for communities of color and organizations that serve them since communities of color are disproportionately at risk. Blacks and Latinos  of all sexual preferences have higher rates of infection and not because they are more promiscuous than their white counterparts. The impact of structural racism, poverty, and a certain discomfort in talking open and honestly about sex all are contributing factors.

“We will continue to address the health challenges that create barriers for our communities to access HIV testing, treatment and care, especially in the south of the United States where the impact of HIV is invisible and more than ever we need partnerships to overcome so many obstacles. United we can,” stated Guillermo Chacón, President of The Latino Commission on AIDS,  a non-profit founded in 1990 to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Latino/Hispanic communities. They advocate for treatment advances and promoting methods of prevention to decrease new HIV infections including access to rapid in-home testing as ways to “Get to Zero”.  They also challenge discrimination  and seek to empower those living with HIV and AIDS to live longer and healthier lives.

Immigration status and lack of insurance are risk fact that especially impact Latinas in the United States. Jessica González-Rojas, Executive Director of The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), the only national organization working on behalf of the reproductive rights of the more than 24 million Latinas in the U.S.,said in a statement, “HIV/AIDS is a serious threat to the health of Latinas, who are four times more likely than white women to be infected. Because the majority of Latinas contract HIV from having unprotected sex with a man, improved access to protection and to sexual education are both critical to reducing rates of Latina HIV infection. Far too few Latinas have access to the sex education they need to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections. More than half of Puerto Rican and Mexican American women, for example, received no sex education from their parents, and one in four Puerto Rican and two in five Mexican American women reported no sex education in school.”

The Black AIDS Institute points out in a study they released earlier this year that in the United States Black gay men account for nearly 1 in 4 new HIV infections with new infections rapidly rising. A young Black gay man has a roughly 1-in-4 chance of being infected by age 25. By the time he is 40 years old, the odds a Black gay men will be living with HIV is roughly 60%. Countering stereotypes, the Institute says this is not because of engagement in riskier behaviors but rather the disproportionate risk of HIV can be traced to poor access to health services, a high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, and early patterns of sexual behavior among young gay men.

So what can we do today, right now? Educating ourselves is a start, so that we can fight all the structural challenges from the root. HIV/AIDS is not just a sex problem, its a race problem, it’s a class problem, it’s an immigration problem. It’s a health insurance problem. But joining in the fight towards generation zero doesn’t have to be so complicated. It can start with one small action, like learning your HIV status and encouraging others around you to do the same.

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