NPR’s ‘Weekly Edition’ Examines Effects of HIV/AIDS on Underserved Latino CommunitiesNational Public Radio's "Weekly Edition" on Saturday examined the effects that HIV/AIDS is having on the U.S. Latino population, particularly among gays and women and along the border region with Mexico. According to Guillermo Chacon, community development director for the Latino Commission on AIDS in New York City, the Latino community is "20 or more years behind in terms of general [HIV/AIDS] awareness. Talking about sex or talking about sexually transmitted disease is not a topic at our tables, and it's a big taboo to talk about sex in the Latino families." He added that there are also not enough resources or HIV/AIDS information available in Spanish. He noted that gay Latino men are twice as likely as gay white men to contract HIV, saying that the Latino gay community has had "less researchers, less campaign [and] less education." Many Latino men who engage in sex with other men do not identify themselves as gay, another factor for outreach workers to consider, Dr. Jane Del Gato of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health said. Men who have sex with men account for 43% of Latino HIV cases, while 36% of cases are the result of injection drug use and 6% result from heterosexual contact, according to the latest CDC statistics. Latina women report that condom use is often non-negotiable, as many women experience abuse when they ask their partners to use them. The Catholic church's discouragement of condom use is also a cultural barrier to HIV prevention in the predominantly Catholic Latino community. In addition, "proper, affordable" health care is hard to come by for many Latinos, with 45% lacking health insurance, and this may contribute to the shorter survival time for Latinos with AIDS (Marshall, "Weekly Edition," NPR, 10/20).
Border Crossings Spreading Disease
The frequency of travel between the United States and Mexico and the high rate of prostitution along the border are also contributing to the spread of HIV. Last year, more than five million people legally crossed the border at Laredo, Texas, a town "famous for sex." Paul Sopete, a program officer for the Texas Department of Health, said that the frequent border crossings and the availability of sex lead to the "import [of] syphilis" to the United States and the export of HIV to Mexico. Sopete said that public health workers cannot adequately follow up on HIV testing or conduct HIV counseling because of the mobility of the population. He estimates that 20% of the people who test positive for HIV on the Texas side of the border actually live in Mexico, and Mexican officials estimate that the same number of people who test positive there are from the United States. Dr. Leticia Doria, coordinator of the Centra de Salud's HIV program in Reynosa, Mexico, said neither agency has adequate follow-up rates. She added that "if we have cities that share health problems and are in the same situation, then we need to have some communication" (Garcia, "Weekly Edition," NPR, 10/20).