How HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects blacks and Latinos
By Kristy Zhen
Since it was first isolated in 1983, HIV has infected 60 million people worldwide and killed about 30 million. In the United States, an estimated 1.1 million people live with HIV, and 600,000 people have died due to AIDS complications since the beginning of the epidemic.
HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that leads to AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. HIV works to attack the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections. A person who is HIV-positive is diagnosed with AIDS when he develops one of 26 AIDS-related infections. While treatments exist, there is no cure for AIDS.
The leading cause of HIV infections for all racial groups is having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man, while blood transfer from injected drug use is the second most common form of transmission.
HIV does not discriminate when infecting people. However, statistics show that blacks and Latinos in the United States are more likely to be affected by this epidemic than other racial groups. Although blacks and Latinos make up 12 and 15 percent of the U.S. population, respectively, they account for almost two-thirds of people living with HIV in 2006.
According to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States, blacks “comprise the greatest proportion of HIV/AIDS cases across many transmission categories, including among women, heterosexual men, injection drug users and infants.” Several factors contribute to this disparity, including poverty, lack of education, lack of access to health care and lack of funding.
Poverty plays a major role in spreading HIV. Young people in poverty are more likely to drop out of school and, in effect, less likely to have access to stable employment, which could lead them to illegal activities, such as drug use. Poverty limits mobility, creating communities of people that stay in a general area all their life. This, in turn, limits social and sexual networks.
One study of African-Americans in North Carolina showed that imprisonment, death and drug use among men connected with sexual networks relating to the spread of HIV and other STDs. A recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention study found that regardless of race, members of impoverished urban areas faced similarly high rates of HIV prevalence.
“Poverty, access to healthcare and education are all interrelated,” Alicia Carbaugh, principal policy analyst of Global Health Policy and HIV for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said. In 2007, close to a fifth of HIV-positive blacks and one quarter of HIV-positive Latinos were uninsured, and about two-thirds of blacks and half of Latinos relied on Medicaid for HIV treatment.
Another factor is funding for research and treatment in these communities. “Even if you look back at the data from early on in the epidemic, blacks especially were disproportionately affected,” Carbaugh said. When the epidemic started, blacks did not get as much attention because gay males, a group that remains disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, were perceived to be affected most.
In the Latino community, factors such as immigration, religion and language barriers also play a role in the spread of this epidemic. According to Xóchitl Castañeda, director of the Health Initiative of Americas at the School of Public Health at University of California at Berkeley, Latino men can migrate between Latin America and the United States, and some deviate from their normative heterosexual relations that would not be accepted at home while in the new, liberal environment. Some may then return to their hometowns, bringing back HIV if they were engaged with someone who was HIV-positive.
Religion can also play a role in spreading HIV, since Catholicism, the most practiced religion among Latinos, condemns condom use. Although the pope recently deemed condom use appropriate in some cases, it is essentially up to the discretion of local church officials to disseminate this information to their church members, so its impact is questionable. Documentation status and inability to communicate in English can also be barriers in attaining preventive services and treatment.
There have been governmental, as well as grassroots, efforts to combat HIV/AIDS among the black and Latino communities. Nonprofit organizations across the nation offer health education, counseling, treatment, housing or financial support to those affected.
“I think they’re incredibly important because the Department of Health, I think, holds with it a stigma, too,” Christopher Murphy, deputy director of Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education, said.
Community-based organizations can provide services and information to those who are too afraid to seek help from the Department of Health. Love Heals provides prevention education to deter many adolescents’ misconceptions about the epidemic in New York City and Long Island.
Although there has been progress in treatment and preventive strategies related to this epidemic, there is still more to be accomplished.
“A lot of progress has been done in education and promotion of condom use,” Castañeda said. “In schools and places of ‘at-risk population,’ there is availability of condoms. The problem is utilization is still not being embodied.” She feels that there should be more campaigns promoting the compatibility of condom use and pleasure, emphasizing disease prevention.
The way to fight this epidemic is not by tackling the factors one at a time; the factors are interrelated. The first step in reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS, therefore, is spreading awareness and acknowledging the connections between poverty, health care and this epidemic.
Kristy Zhen is a sophomore journalism major who thinks that red ribbons are always in style. E-mail her at email@example.com.