As Latinos working to support the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), we see our families and friends living with HIV and some who are newly infected, and we look at these numbers with a sense of both sadness and urgency. In this 30th year of the AIDS epidemic, it is completely unacceptable that HIV infection rates among Latinos are so high.National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) gives us an opportunity to re-examine the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Latinos, and to redouble our efforts to find effective ways to respond to the epidemic in the U.S.
The NHAS is helping us to do this by requiring us to focus on three important goals: reducing HIV incidence; increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS; and reducing HIV-related health disparities. The NHAS also calls on all of us to target our collective efforts at the populations at greatest risk.
Latinos are not only disproportionately impacted, they also tend to be diagnosed later in the course of their HIV infection—meaning that they are more likely to develop AIDS within a year of their diagnosis. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Latinos progress more quickly to AIDS after an HIV diagnosis than any other U.S. racial or ethnic group. Exciting new research data has been published this year showing how effective HIV treatment can be at stopping HIV transmission and current drugs are helping HIV-positive individuals lead long and healthy lives. If Latinos are being diagnosed with advanced HIV infection and are quickly progressing to AIDS, they are missing important opportunities to get the maximum benefits of the highly effective treatments we currently have available.
Responding to this disproportionate impact, the NHAS has helped to spotlight the need for special emphasis on HIV prevention, testing, and treatment for Hispanics/Latinos. Among its recommendations for addressing the epidemic among Latinos in the U.S., the NHAS mentions the following:
- Offering HIV-prevention efforts that are culturally appropriate and available to acculturated and nonacculturated Latino populations;
- Increasing the proportion of HIV-diagnosed Latinos with undetectable viral load by 20 percent;
- Ensuring that high-risk groups have access to regular viral load and CD4 tests to track their health; and,
- Promoting a more holistic approach to health that addresses not only HIV prevention, but also the prevention of HIV-related co-morbidities, such as sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis B and C.
James Albino is the Senior Program Manager in the Office of National AIDS Policy and Miguel Gomez is the Director of HIV.gov at the Department of Health and Human Services.