Friday, December 01, 2006

Latinos are more likely to avoid HIV testing until they have full blown AIDS, compounding efforts to contain the spread of the deadly disease

Susan Abram:

As World AIDS Day approaches Friday, local organizations remain challenged with encouraging Latinos to get tested for HIV, saying cultural misconceptions about how the disease is spread remains a stubborn problem.

The study surveyed Latinos residing both legally and illegally in the Los Angeles area.

Conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, the study found that 72 percent of those Latinos living with AIDS had been diagnosed less than a year after getting their first HIV test. By comparison, 35 percent of whites and 53 percent of blacks living with AIDS neglected to get tested less than a year before being diagnosed with the disease.

"We need to look at the reasons for this more fully, to understand whether it's based on immigration status or on language barriers," said Amy Rock Wohl, epidemiologist for Los Angeles County.

But a similar, smaller study conducted in San Mateo County traced the aversion to testing among Latinos to widely shared community beliefs that marriage and having children somehow lowered the risk for HIV. It also found that bisexual Latino men felt they were not at an increased risk of contracting the HIV virus because they did not identify themselves as gay, said San Mateo County epidemiologist Gladys Balmas.

Indeed, among Latinas in Los Angeles who are HIV positive, 44 percent did not know how they contracted the disease. Many had no more than three sexual partners.

"Messages on prevention are not reaching the Latino community," Balmas said. "There also are cultural factors. When we talk to immigrants, they believe they do not fit into high-risk groups so the message is not reaching them."

AIDS HITS LATINOS HARDEST

Latinos Disproportionately Affected by HIV/AIDS, Less Likely to Be Tested, Treated, Report Says

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