Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza may be recognized for her statuesque figure or even giving Donald Trump a run for his money in “Celebrity Apprentice,” but the 26-year-old Venezuelan model has her eyes set on something much closer to her heart than fame or fortune.
On National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (October 15th), Mendoza is teaming up with the Latino Commission on AIDS in New York City to promote the OraQuick At-Home HIV Test, as well as educating Latinos on the importance of a health threat that continues to impact the community.
“Today is especially important because OraQuick is a new method that’s going to remove the barriers we have about Latinos and HIV,” explains Mendoza. “Many people are self conscious about going to the doctor and getting tested. And some families aren’t used to openly talking about sexuality and the many ways we can prevent diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. With this new method, it makes it a lot easier to get tested."
HIV and AIDS is a major concern in the Hispanic population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 50 Latinos will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. The rate of new HIV infections among Latinos is nearly three times that of white men, and the rate among Latinas is more than four times that of white women. Gay and bisexual men are the most affected, accounting for the largest amount of HIV infections among Latinos. The CDC states these increasing numbers can be accredited to the fact that Latinos are less likely to have access to health care due to “poverty, discrimination, language barriers, or the stigma of HIV.”
According to the New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration approved the OraQuick test in July, which uses a mouth swab and provides results in 20 to 40 minutes.
Mendoza agrees with the CDC findings.
“I think we (Latinos) don’t really talk about sexuality at home and it’s also due to the whole machismo culture where people see men having multiple partners as a means to show they’re masculine. Education toward HIV/AIDS is not something we’re more aware of and there’s still this fear of getting tested,” says Mendoza. “As a young lady being in the United States for more than five years, I’ve discovered that HIV is a major threat in our community. It became my mission to spread the word.”
Since Mendoza was crowned Miss Universe in 2008, she has spoken out about research needed to fight the epidemic. While participating in the “Celebrity Apprentice” earlier this year, Mendoza won $20,000 to support The Latino Commission on AIDS. She also took time to visit hospitals throughout the United States and Latin American to meet those infected with the virus. During the interview with Fox News Latino, she chokes up remembering receiving thank-you letters from patients for speaking with them.
“I think people don’t realize that you raise hope and encourage those to keep living their lives. This stigma still exists, that something as simple as hugging or talking with someone who has HIV can get you sick,” says Mendoza. “I want to let the world know you can avoid getting the virus in every way as long as you’re smart about it. But if you do have it, it does not mean your life is over. It’s your time to fight, get stronger, and be responsible with your partners.”
You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco