On National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, we all must take stock and take action to prevent HIV from continuing its toll on Latino communities across the United States. While Hispanics represent just 13 percent of the United States population, they account for an estimated 18 percent of people living with HIV in this country, and an estimated 17 percent of new infections each year. In fact, Hispanics are becoming infected with HIV at a rate that is three times as high as that of whites, with gay and bisexual Latino men hit the hardest within the population. Although prevention efforts have helped to keep new HIV infections among Latinos fairly stable for more than a decade, Latinos continue to be far too affected by HIV.
Because there is no single Latino culture in the United States, the factors driving the HIV epidemic among Latinos are as diverse as the communities themselves. A variety of complex factors confronting this population lead to increased risk for HIV, including socioeconomic factors such as poverty, discrimination, lack of access to health care, and language barriers; stigma surrounding a variety of factors, including homosexuality, drug use, and HIV itself; and a high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, which can place individuals at a higher risk for HIV infection.
HIV prevention among Latinos is one of CDC’s highest HIV prevention priorities. At CDC, we are working to stop the spread of HIV in Latino communities throughout the country, through diverse and culturally appropriate means. Our activities range from efforts to increase testing and early diagnosis, to developing more prevention programs specifically for Latinos and to expanding access to HIV prevention services for those most in need.
Today, I join my colleagues across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in recognizing both the tremendous toll that HIV takes on Latino communities, as well as the continued action that is needed to stem the spread of HIV in this population. In recognition of National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, events will be held across the country to raise awareness among Latinos about the disease and to increase HIV testing and knowledge of HIV status.
But it’s not just today that we must remember the threat of HIV, and the more than 82,000 Hispanics with AIDS whose lives have been lost. Every day, every Latino can take a number of steps to reduce his or her own risk of infection. Get basic information about the disease and how it is transmitted. Take control and protect yourself by making smart choices if you choose to have sex: only have sex with a single monogamous partner you know is not infected, and use a condom every time. And get tested for HIV, so if you are infected, you can take steps to protect your partners, as well as access treatment that can help to dramatically extend your life.
Finally, talk to everyone you know about HIV. The sooner we start to talk openly about the disease, the sooner we can reduce the stigma that keeps too many Latinos from accessing the testing, prevention, treatment, and support services they need. To fight HIV among Latino communities, we all can and must become a part of the solution.