On this October 15th, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, Hispanic/Latinos will recognize the serious impact of HIV and AIDS in our communities. National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, (NLAAD) was established ten years ago by the Latino Commission on AIDS, the Hispanic Federation and other national organizations as a day dedicated to renew our commitment, reflect on the increasing impact of HIV/AIDS on the Latino community, and educate people about the importance of everyone knowing their HIV status through routine testing.

The HIV infection rate in the US remains alarmingly high. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), there are approximately 1.2 million people in the U.S. that have been diagnosed with HIV and approximately 240,000 of them are unaware of their status. Additionally, Hispanic/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV.  According to the CDC, Hispanic/Latinos represent approximately 16% of the total US population, but account for 20% of new HIV infections in the United States.  Hispanic/Latinos are also known as “late-testers”, meaning that 36% of Hispanic/Latinos are diagnosed with AIDS within 12 months of their HIV positive test result.

Early diagnosis of HIV is critical to getting those individuals into care to have access to life-saving treatment that can prevent the progression to AIDS.  This will also provide people living with HIV education to prevent the spread of HIV to others.

In New York City, the situation is even more serious.  Latinos account for 27% of the New York City population and 32% of all HIV and AIDS diagnosis.  Latino gay men and Latinas are four times more likely to die than non-Latino white men and women.  Limited access to testing, prevention education and care, language and cultural barriers, and immigration issues all contribute to this disparity.   

National Latino AIDS Awareness Day brings together hundreds of organizations and institutions in cities across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to work in partnership to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS within the Hispanic community and promote HIV testing, prevention, and visibility.  

Progress in fighting HIV/AIDS in the Hispanic/Latino community has been mixed.  We need to pursue initiatives that will help them learn their status, get life-saving treatments, and learn how to avoid infecting others.

Unfortunately, too many Latinos are tested and diagnosed late in their illness and only after they notice the effects of the disease, when treatment is less successful than when caught early.  This can be disastrous not only for the individual, but late diagnosis also increases the chances that the disease could have been spread to others.

Getting routinely tested for HIV is critical.   With rapid oral fluid testing, it’s quick, easy, reliable, and confidential.   If you don't have HIV, you can learn how to avoid it.  If you do have HIV, you can receive critical assistance and medical care that will allow you stay healthy.  When we talk about HIV and AIDS, it’s better to know.

For more information on HIV & AIDS in both Spanish & English visit: www.nlaad.org or call 1-800-232-4636.

Guillermo Chacon is the President of Latino Commission on AIDS.

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