AIDS and Hispanic-Americans

While in recent years there has been increased awareness of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, much less focus has been placed on the demographic groups that are at increased risk for HIV/AIDS within the United States. Such groups include the Hispanic-American population, an ethnic community that accounts for only 14% of the American population but which accounts for 19% of the close to 1 million Americans diagnosed with HIV/AIDS since the onset of this epidemic over 25 years ago. This figure is due to the fact that, for a variety of reasons, Hispanic Americans are, like African Americans, at a greater risk for HIV/AIDS than non-African and non-Hispanic Americans.

But why are Hispanic Americans at a greater risk for HIV/AIDS? And why is this risk of aids increasing among Hispanic Americans?

Hispanic Americans and HIV/AIDS: Facts and Figures

AIDS statistics for Hispanic Americans have become increasingly daunting.

Accounting for 19% of all HIV/AIDS cases in the United States, Hispanic Americans are more likely to die because of HIV/AIDS than Caucasian Americans; from 2000 to 2004, the number of deaths among Hispanic Americans from AIDS-related causes rose by 7%, compared to the 19% decline of AIDS related fatalities among American Caucasians.

Rates of HIV/AIDS are four times higher among Hispanic Americans than their Caucasian counterparts.

Hispanic American women made up 21% of HIV/AIDS cases in 2004 while Caucasian women made up 16% of AIDS cases in that same year. The rate of adult and adolescent Hispanic females affected by AIDS is the second highest rate in the country, affecting 12.4 people per 100,000, second only to the AIDS rate among African Americans.

Additionally, 89% of all Hispanic American HIV/AIDS cases affect Puerto Rican Americans, in addition to Hispanic Americans living in the following states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Why Are Hispanic Americans More Susceptible to HIV/AIDS?

Alone, race, ethnicity and gender do not explain why certain groups of the population are more susceptible to contracting HIV/AIDS. The following barriers and circumstances are most likely responsible for the disproportionate presence of HIV/AIDS among Hispanic Americans:

  • Socioeconomic factors: currently, 22% (9.1 million) of the Hispanic American population lives below the American poverty line. Also, 24% (or 1 in 4) Hispanic Americans don’t have health insurance, compared with 17% of Caucasian Americans and 20% of African Americans, limiting access to important medical treatment and diagnosis
  • STDs: on average, Hispanic Americans have higher rates of STDs, including syphilis and chlamydia. This is due in large part to a low use of condoms among Hispanic Americans. Fifty-one percent of HIV/AIDS cases among Hispanic-American men contracted the disease through heterosexual sex, while heterosexual sex led to the contraction of HIV/AIDS for 65% of Hispanic American women
  • Limited knowledge and lack of testing: According to a recent study, 48% of Hispanic Americans are unaware that they are infected with HIV, compared with 67% of African Americans and 18% of Caucasian Americans. Also, on average, Hispanic Americans are tested for HIV/AIDS later than their Caucasian counterparts: 39% (more than one-third) of Hispanic Americans are diagnosed with AIDS within a year of testing positive for HIV, suggesting an extremely tardy diagnosis, which also likely accounts for the group’s high fatality rate
  • Cultural and linguistic barriers: such barriers can contribute to a fear of the disease, as well as stereotypes, thereby hindering information on practicing safe sex in order to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Also, such barriers can hinder communication with care givers

What is Being Done to Combat this Epidemic?

A variety of initiatives have been developed to combat the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Hispanic American community.

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Academy for Educational Development have established the VOICES/VOCES (Video Opportunities for Innovative Condom Education and Safer Sex) initiative. This initiative promotes condom use for Hispanic Americans, and also plays an active role in their distribution among the Hispanic American community.

In addition, the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act runs programs on HIV/AIDS education and support for women, youth and family affected with HIV/AIDS in areas of the country most affected by the disease.

The CARE Act also has programs in place in order to improve standards of health care for refugees living along the Mexican-American border.

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