This seventh annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day marks an occasion for all of us to consider the impact HIV has had on the Latino community and what we can do to prevent future infections among the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in the United States.
Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began, more than 82,000 Latinos in the United States have died. While Latinos represent only 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account for roughly 17 percent of new HIV infections each year and an estimated 18 percent of people living with HIV in this country. The Latino community also has a disproportionate burden of newly diagnosed AIDS cases, with a rate three times that of whites. And despite the fact that antiretroviral treatment for controlling HIV and prolonging life is widely available in the United States, HIV/AIDS was the fourth leading cause of death among Latino men and women ages 35 to 44 in 2006. Within the Latino population, males are more frequently diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, with gay and bisexual Latinos experiencing the greatest burden of new diagnoses. However, among all women, Latinas experience a high rate of new HIV infections accounting for 16 percent of new infections, nearly four times the rate for white women but about a quarter of the rate among African-American women.
A key concern is that a significant number of Latinos infected with HIV get tested for the virus late in the course of their disease. This means that many individuals infected with HIV are not getting antiretroviral treatment at an earlier stage in their infection when medication could produce the best health outcomes. It also means that infected individuals may unwittingly transmit the virus to others, continuing its ongoing spread throughout the community.
Cultural and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, language barriers, immigration status, health care access and stigma surrounding homosexuality all serve to hinder routine HIV/AIDS testing among Latinos and place the community at greater risk for infection. To successfully curb HIV incidence among Latinos, we must find a way to overcome these barriers, actively reach out to Latinos and promote widespread, routine HIV testing.
One of the top priorities of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH, is to conduct and support the HIV/AIDS research that can help improve the health of millions of people in the United States and around the world. Developing new strategies to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS requires the participation of all communities, but particularly those that are most affected by the disease. In this way, we can find the approaches that will be most appropriate and relevant to a given patient population.
Latino men and women play an important role in HIV/AIDS research as scientists, health care workers and clinical trial volunteers. They also lend an important voice of support to family members and friends who are considering enrolling in clinical research. Today, we thank our clinical trial volunteers and all those who have worked tirelessly to prevent the spread of HIV among the Latino community, and we reaffirm our efforts to find new and more effective HIV prevention and treatment strategies.