Report: Step up fight vs. AIDS among Latinos

CHICAGO — Last October the Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness, a coalition of health-related groups here, released a report titled “A Call To Action: Regarding HIV/AIDS Among Illinois’ Latino Communities” that investigated the community’s current response to the disease.

The group hopes to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and is calling on community residents and civic leaders to respond to the problem of inadequate funding of the fight against the epidemic in Latino communities in Illinois.

The report says that, nationally, the disease shows no signs of abating. From 1999 to 2001, new HIV infection rates among Latinos increased by 26 percent in the 29 states that confidentially report HIV diagnoses. They reported that the number of Latinos living with AIDS increases by more than 300 every year.

Juana Ballesteros is director of the Humboldt Park group and author of the report. She has also done clinical research with women who are pregnant and HIV-positive.

“You cannot stereotype HIV/AIDS,” Ballesteros said. “It’s not a disease of sex workers, drug users or of gay men.” She said the women she has worked with, most of them African American, are “everyday women who have families and 9-to-5 jobs.”

“They have the right to have families and children who are HIV-negative,” she added.

Ballesteros said over 50 percent of persons who are newly diagnosed as HIV-positive in the U.S. today are African American.

“The purpose of the report is because we know that it’s an epidemic in the Latino community locally and nationally,” she said. “And in the Latino community it is such a stigmatized disease that we can’t even openly discuss it on our own.”

The report identifies four specific actions that government officials, public health groups, service organizations, community members, the media, and individuals and families impacted by HIV/AIDS must consider.

HIV/AIDS awareness, involvement and the visibility of the disease should be increased in the community, says the report. In addition, the report recommends that educational forums be held at all levels to make the community aware of various health-related resources for combating the disease.

Supporting existing community Latino organizations with technical assistance in order to strengthen their work is also recommended.

More funding with larger and multi-year grants, instead of small, annual ones, is also needed in order to increase activities that respond to fighting HIV/AIDS.

Finally, political involvement and active advocacy on the local, state and federal levels that inform elected officials about the factors fueling HIV/AIDS among Latinos and others must be heightened, says the document.

“Elected officials need to be more involved,” said Ballesteros.

Ballesteros said the work is not easy and more prevention messages are crucial including advocacy and funding toward curbing the disease. “This has to go beyond just calling your representatives, people need to work together on all levels with services that already exist in the community.”

This work cannot just be done by the medical community, she said. “The public and private sectors can and must do more to address HIV/AIDS in our community.”

plozano @pww.org