While many around the world commemorated World AIDS Day last month, the National Council of La Raza ( NCLR ) was busy asking the government, community-based health organizations and the Latino community for an intensified commitment to HIV/AIDS prevention.
NCLR, the largest national Latino civil-rights and advocacy organization, says new HIV/AIDS cases continue to increase in the Latino community, particularly among Latino youth.
'We will not win the battle against this debilitating disease unless we make it a community priority to educate our youth, their parents and community leaders about the growing rates of HIV infection and methods of prevention,' said Janet Murguia, NCLR executive director.
Like many other health issues affecting the Latino community, new increases of HIV infection can be blamed on cultural and language barriers, a high rate of uninsured Latinos and an overall lack of health-related resources compared to other communities.
'Denial of the problem will lead to further increases in the rates of HIV/AIDS among Latinos and will result in an overwhelming health burden for a community already plagued by inadequate access to healthcare and health-related information,' said Murguia.
In a study recently released by UNAIDS and the World Health Organizationsm nearly one million Americans are currently living with HIV/AIDS. And while Latinos make up only 14% of the population of the U.S. and Puerto Rico, they account for nearly 20% of reported AIDS cases.
The study also suggested that if the problem of HIV/AIDS continues to be ignored, rates for HIV and AIDS will continue to grow within the Latino community, especially among youth and women.
Since the first case was diagnosed in 1981, AIDS has killed more than 20 million people, including 2.9 million in 2003 alone.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women now make up half of all people living with HIV worldwide. In the U.S., up to 950,000 Americans are estimated to have the virus. Among minorities, rates of HIV/AIDS diagnoses are up to 19 times higher than those of whites in the 32 states with stable HIV/AIDS reporting.
'Through NCLR-based research and prevention efforts we are beginning to understand the many ways in which HIV/AIDS is affecting the Latino community,' adds Murguia. 'However, we need real investment by government, hospitals and clinics, public health organizations and community-based organizations to get both a clearer picture of the rates of infection within our community and to support community-led prevention campaigns.'
The good news about HIV/AIDS is that individual changes in behavior can drastically curb its spread and impact. The harder news to swallow, however, is with such individual power comes enormous responsibility for the Latino community.
HIV/AIDS is manageable and most importantly preventable with access to primary care and prevention education.
'I believe that the Latino community has the power and the responsibility to decrease the impact of HIV/AIDS, which is why we will continuing to develop peer-to-peer, community-led, and family support structures for our youth and our emerging immigrant communities who are most at risk,' said Murguia.