Our lives might be a little less quiet, and we might be hearing voices (real ones) if the Banyan Tree Project has its way. The campaign supports National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which takes place each year on May 19th. The campaign’s key message is “Saving Face Can’t Make You Safe.” Empowering people to use their voices is at the heart of the campaign, which is working to help end HIV stigma in the Asian & Pacific Islander (API) community.
Stigma continues to be a real and pervasive problem in all our communities, and it can hold some people back from talking about testing, prevention, and life with HIV. We hesitate. We don’t say what’s really on our minds because we don’t want to rock the boat. We hold ourselves back, giving power to our own internalized stigma. As a result, we miss the opportunity to change the narrative and create new social norms that can make it easier to talk about these important issues in the future. This gives power to the people who would rather avoid these discussions by labeling some topics as “private,” “inappropriate,” “embarrassing,” or “controversial.”
This is troubling, particularly for APIs, who are believed to have the highest rates of undiagnosed HIV infection among any racial/ethnic group. CDC estimates that 15% of people living with HIV in the U.S. have not been diagnosed. That percentage is estimated to be 22% for Asian Americans, and nearly 20% for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI). If people don't know they have HIV, they can't get the treatment they need to protect their own health and to lower their risk of transmitting the virus.
The good news is that APIs who know they have HIV have the highest rates of any racial/ethnic population when it comes to linkage to medical care and treatment within one month of diagnosis (80% for Asian Americans and 84% for NHOPI). Asian Americans also have the highest rate of viral suppression among those in treatment (60%).
We should celebrate this news, while still acknowledging that APIs and other communities still have some distance to go in order to reach our nation’s goal for knowledge of HIV status. That goal is that at least 90% of people living with HIV will know their status. Reaching this goal is so important that it is the first indicator used to measure progress for the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a leading health indicator for Healthy People 2020, and the first “90” in the United Nations’ 90-90-90 goals.