Chicago was one of 18 cities nationwide to celebrate the 3rd annual National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on May 17. The celebration, held in Uptown's Truman College, largely focused on the need to eliminate the stigma attached to the disease in the API community.
Dr. Hong Liu, executive director of the Asian Health Coalition of Illinois, stressed the importance of promoting awareness in the community, while reducing the stigma and shame attached to HIV/AIDS.
Although the prevalence rates are relatively low in this community, the impact of the disease is still very significant, particularly among Asian male adults, said Dr. Jing Zhang, program director of community health at Asian Human Services. 'We have a lot of work to do,' she said, noting that many don't get tested, and don't receive medical treatment until very late in the game.
Keynote speaker Dr. Terry Mason, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, opened up by noting that he has attended many HIV/AIDS awareness events for many different ethnic and cultural groups. 'But if I were to close my eyes,' Mason told the crowd, 'the message, issues and concerns are all the same.'
The main concern across the board, he mentioned, is the remaining stigma attached to the disease and, in particular, the connections people make between HIV/AIDS and homosexuality.
'We need to separate the disease from our responses to how we think people got it,' Mason continued. 'We need to move from hatred and shame, and toward compassion and empathy. This is the same in any culture.'