Statement by Kevin Fenton, M.D., Ph.D.
for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
WASHINGTON - The eighth annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day comes at a time of renewed national commitment and optimism regarding HIV prevention, due to President Obama’s recently-announced National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which focuses our nation’s efforts in the fight against HIV. The day also comes at a time of a shared understanding of the complex realities of addressing prevention, particularly in many Latino communities already burdened by significant socioeconomic challenges. As we set aside this time to focus on HIV awareness and prevention among Latinos in the United States, we also highlight progress made and hope for the future.
CDC data show a fairly stable HIV epidemic among Latinos for more than a decade. However, the burden of HIV among Latinos is great. Latinos represent approximately 16 percent of the U.S. population, and the latest CDC estimates show that Latinos account for approximately 17 percent of new infections and 18 percent of people living with HIV. Among Latinos, as is true with other U.S.
populations, most individuals who become infected with HIV do so through male-to-male sexual contact. But heterosexuals are also at risk.
Data released by CDC today underscore harsh truths that all Latinos and Latinas face when it comes to HIV: the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with HIV among Latinos is 1 in 36 for males and 1 in 106 for females. Clearly, this risk is unacceptable. We cannot allow HIV to gain even more ground in the nation’s fastest growing minority population. We must face head-on the factors that place Latinos at high risk, and we must redouble our HIV prevention efforts at the federal, state and local levels.
Studies have shown a range of factors that may place Latinos at such high risk: lack of awareness about the risk of HIV infection; cultural and socioeconomic factors like poverty and language barriers; and concerns about immigrations status. Additionally, these factors may also prevent individuals from seeking HIV testing and treatment. Fear of stigma and discrimination may also represent barriers to HIV prevention and treatment, particularly among gay and bisexual men and people living with HIV.
As President Obama’s new National HIV/AIDS Strategy unfolds, HIV prevention efforts will prioritize populations hardest hit by HIV, including Latinos. Preventing HIV among Latinos is a top CDC priority, and our efforts are as diverse as the Latino community itself. Our scientists are focused on developing, implementing and evaluating culturally and linguistically appropriate prevention interventions. They also work to identify methods for improving access to and participation in HIV testing for Latinos and other populations at increased risk for HIV infection.
CDC recently announced a multi-million-dollar three-year expansion of our successful HIV testing initiative. We are also building partnerships with leading national Latino organizations, and recently announced the expansion of the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative to include three leading national Latino organizations. This initiative seeks to ensure that HIV prevention is a core component of the mission and day-to-day business of large national organizations with extensive research and credibility.
This year’s theme for National Latino AIDS Awareness Day – “Save a Life. It May Be Your Own. Get Tested for HIV.” is a call to action. HIV testing is critical in preventing the spread of HIV, as research shows individuals who are aware of their HIV status are more likely to take steps to protect their partners from becoming infected. Further, the sooner individuals learn they are infected, the sooner they can receive life-extending treatment. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years be tested for HIV. Gay and bisexual men should be tested at least annually, and every three to six months if they are at increased risk for infection (e.g., have multiple or anonymous sex partners, or inject drugs).
It is our hope that this National Latino AIDS Awareness Day is a day of reaffirmation of our collective commitment to HIV prevention. We have more opportunities than ever to stop HIV – there is hope amidst the crisis. HIV is preventable, and each of us can and must do our part. Start a dialogue about HIV, get the facts, know your risk, and get tested. These are the first steps to protecting our communities. We are committed and look forward to working with you on expanding our HIV prevention efforts and making a positive impact on this epidemic.