The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, is proud to commemorate the second annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD), Oct. 15, 2004, along with hundreds of national, regional and local HIV/AIDS groups, state health departments and faith-based organizations. This day of observance is an opportunity to bring together community, scientific and religious leadership to focus on the current state of HIV/AIDS in Latino communities across the nation. The theme for this year's commemoration is "Abre Los Ojos: El HIV No Tiene Fronteras" ("Open Your Eyes: HIV Has No Borders").
The Latino community is one of several communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Although Latinos represent approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 18.5 percent of the estimated 886,575 AIDS cases diagnosed since the beginning of the epidemic and 19.6 percent of the 42,136 estimated cases diagnosed in 2002 alone. While Latino men continue to account for most new AIDS cases within the Latino community, Latinas are beginning to account for a growing number of cases. In 2002, Latinas represented almost one-quarter of new cases diagnosed among all Latinos. Latino youth ages 19 and under accounted for 19.7 percent of new AIDS cases diagnosed in that age group on 2002.
Latino communities face a set of unique challenges in their fight against HIV/AIDS. Issues such as cultural stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, language barriers, lack of access to adequate healthcare, and high poverty levels have contributed to the impact of HIV/AIDS. Latinos continue to get tested later in their illness than African Americans and whites despite the fact that one-third of Latinos identify HIV/AIDS as the most urgent health problem facing the Nation.
Even in the face of such challenges, much progress has been made by Latino communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Latino organizations at the national, regional and local levels have been working tirelessly to address some of these challenges. Through their work they have begun to reduce HIV-related cultural stigma and remove the barriers to effective prevention, care and treatment that exist within the Latino community. Over the past year, NIAID has partnered with many organizations across the Nation that serve Latino communities. These partnerships were designed to educate and promote awareness of research that scientists believe one day will eliminate the threat of HIV among Latinos and in all populations. Through the HIV Vaccine Communications Campaign, NIAID is helping local organizations such as Mujeres Unidas Contra el SIDA in San Antonio, Texas, and national organizations such as the Latino Commission on AIDS, increase awareness among Latinos of the important ongoing research to develop a preventive HIV vaccine. It is important to encourage those in the Latino community to get involved as volunteers in ongoing HIV vaccine trials. With continued support from NIAID, and in partnership with industry, academia and the community, more than 20 promising HIV vaccine candidates are in clinical trials. It will be through efforts such as National Latino AIDS Awareness Day that we will be able to educate the community about the advances and opportunities for progress in vaccine research, as well as in HIV prevention and treatments.
On Friday, October 15th, I invite people all over the country to commemorate National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, to demonstrate your support and commitment to eliminating HIV/AIDS not only in the Latino community, but also from all communities throughout the country and the world.
The Department of Health and Human Services is also hosting a Web site devoted to NLAAD at www.omhrc.gov/hivaidsobservances/nlhaad/index.html. This Web site contains information about HIV/AIDS, testing and vaccine research, as well as a media tool kit to help local groups organize and publicize their own NLAAD.
### Dr. Fauci is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. For more information on HIV vaccine research, please visit: http://www.niaid.nih.gov