On Oct. 15, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization (LLEGĂ") participated in the first annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) to help spread the word about the grave impact of HIV/AIDS on the Latino community and stress the need for greater prevention, testing and healthcare.
LLEGĂ", the National Council of La Raza, and other national Latino organizations hosted a Capitol Hill HIV prevention exhibit and testing clinic. To highlight the importance of HIV prevention and testing in Latino communities, members of Congress and Capitol Hill staff and employees were invited to receive information on AIDS prevention specifically created for Latinos, and were able to experience firsthand the ease and speed of taking an oral HIV test. La Clinica del Pueblo provided the counseling and testing. La Clinica del Pueblo is a free, non-for-profit, community clinic serving uninsured persons in the Washington metropolitan area, targeting immigrant Latinos for quality healthcare.
'After dealing with a disproportionate burden under the HIV/AIDS crisis for 20 years, Latino communities today are seeing infection rates continue to climb while funding for prevention dwindles,' said MartĂn Ornelas-Quintero, LLEGĂ" executive director. 'In cities throughout the country, LLEGĂ"—along with many other groups—are using National Latino AIDS Awareness Day to promote awareness of the need for greater prevention and care, and to reduce the stigma associated with HIV testing and AIDS.'
According to Center for Disease Control statistics, Latinos make up 14 percent of the U.S. population but currently account for 20 percent of Americans living with AIDS. The AIDS case rate among Latinos was more than three times higher than among non-Hispanic whites in 2001. The HIV infection rate among Latina women is six times greater than among non-Hispanic white women, and the rate for Latino men is four times greater than for non-Hispanic white men.
'National Latino AIDS Awareness Day is a time for our nation to recognize the needs of communities of color and embark on a more proactive fight against AIDS,' said Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Health. 'We must do more than just talk about AIDS. We must work toward adequately funding programs like the Minority AIDS Initiative and advocating for more disease prevention programs.'
Other NLAAD events across the country include awareness-building for religious leaders and public officials, and traditional expressions of the healing power of Latino culture.
Call LLEGĂ"s at (202) 408-5380. See www.latinoaids.org/programs/awarenessday/index.html
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe made the following statement: 'On behalf of the DNC, I would like to recognize Wednesday, Oct. 15 as the first National Latino AIDS Awareness Day. Today, in 100 cities around the United States, Latino leaders will sponsor various education and prevention activities in response to the state of AIDS among Latinos in their specific communities. HIV infection has been affecting Latino communities across the United States for over 20 years. ... The leading cause of death due to disease among male Latinos ages 24-44 in the U.S. is AIDS. Yet, the Bush Administration, showing disregard for these statistics, still does not have a comprehensive policy to address this tragedy affecting so many Latinos.
'The Bush Administration has shown a lack of sensitivity and attention towards the AIDS crisis among Latinos. This attitude could not have been more evident than it was recently when Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson met with 30 representatives from GLBT/AIDS organizations to discuss the impact of the CDC's new HIV Prevention Initiative on GLBT communities and communities of color, and only one Latino was invited to attend the meeting.
'The DNC believes that a comprehensive HIV initiative should include prevention strategies for at risk individuals who are not HIV positive. In addition, Latino community based organizations who serve the GLBT community should be allowed full participation in the development of these policies.
'Mr. President, you have an opportunity to show your compassionate side and your respect to the Latino and GLBT communities, and I challenge your Administration to fully address the issue of AIDS prevention funding to prevent more young Latino lives from being lost.'
Joann, a Chicago mother of six, has been living with HIV since 1999. As a member of the growing HIV-positive Latino community, she is using her positive status as a powerful tool to educate and support others. Because of the first National Latino AIDS Awareness Da Oct. 15, Joann and others like her are sharing their stories to help prevent the further spread of the disease.
NLAAD served as a forum to educate Latino communities on HIV/AIDS issues including the importance of getting tested, improved prevention and care services, and general acceptance and understanding surrounding AIDS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as one-third of infected Americans are unaware of their status.
Joann is actively involved with the AIDS Pastoral Care Network and the American Red Cross through her work with peer support groups and workshops. Through sharing her personal experience of being HIV-positive, Joann tries to humanize and de-stigmatize the disease, stressing that it can happen to anyone at any age, according to Allison Solomon, Communications Coordinator for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
See www.aidschicago.org .