Stigma Prevents Hispanics From Getting Tested for HIV/AIDS
Recent Hispanic immigrants to the Washington, D.C., area may be reluctant to seek testing and treatment for HIV because of deep cultural beliefs and religious values that discourage open discussion about sexually transmitted infections, according to disease counselors, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, counselors say that "the public health challenge posed by such beliefs is compounded by anti-immigrant sentiment and local legislation targeting" undocumented immigrants.
Justin Goforth -- director of the medical adherence unit at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C. -- said, "If we could freely talk about (HIV) like we freely talk about someone with diabetes or cancer, people would get the support that is so important to health care." However, "[f]earful area residents are putting off testing longer and traveling farther from home to get it following widely publicized campaigns in some Virginia counties to deport undocumented immigrants," the Post reports. Miguel Mejia, Whitman-Walker's Latino care coordinator, said that undocumented Latino immigrants "know that if (government officials) find out they are (HIV-) positive, their chance of changing their immigration status is almost zero." Last week, President Bush approved a measure that allows people with HIV to enter the U.S. and obtain legal residency, but before the measure can take effect, it must be approved by HHS.
Although public health workers in Virginia are not allowed to ask patients about their immigration status, two counties have enacted laws that permit police to demand immigration papers from people and that instruct prison officials to report all immigrant inmates to federal immigration authorities. Spokespeople from the health departments of those two counties said they do not know whether fewer undocumented immigrants are seeking HIV/AIDS services as a result of the laws.
At the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the area's largest nongovernmental HIV/AIDS clinic, Goforth said he has noticed an increase in the number of undocumented immigrants, who say they feel safer there than at government clinics. Shannon Hader, director of HIV/AIDS Administration for the district Department of Health, said, "In D.C. we try to send the message that those fears (of arrest for seeking health services) are unfounded. Our health response has nothing to do with immigration" (Johnson, Washington Post, 8/5).