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Latino leaders, health officials say HIV, AIDS are crisis in communities
  Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Bergen Record
Latino leaders and health officials said on Tuesday that HIV and AIDS have become crises in the Latino community, and called for federal policies aimed at preventive care and early treatment.
In press conferences in Manhattan and other major U.S. cities, Latino leaders said that Hispanics are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. They said that Latinos account for 19 percent of people living with AIDS and 25 percent of HIV diagnoses, although they comprise about 15 percent of the U.S. population.
The figures were slightly higher in New Jersey, where Latinos account for 21 percent of people living with HIV and AIDS, according to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. In the year 2005, Latinos - who are 15 percent of the state population -- accounted for 24 percent of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses, the NJDHSS said.
"It's clearly a crisis in New Jersey," said Larry Ganges, the assistant commissioner of the Division of HIV/AIDS Services for NJDHSS. "It's a lack of access to healthcare, it's the stigma, it's tied to poverty - it's all that."
Blacks continue to have the highest rate of HIV and AIDS, followed by Hispanics and non-His panic whites.
But on Tuesday, Latino AIDS activists and health officials said they believe the epidemic is much worse in the ethnic community than the data show because of the reluctance of many Latinos to get tested and to get treated.
The activists, led by the New York-based non-profit Latino Commission on AIDS, released five pages of recommendations for federal policies aimed at, among other initiatives, tightening partnerships between government health agencies and local community organizations that cater to Latinos, launching marketing campaigns to encourage Latinos to get HIV testing and treatment, and developing a better understanding of the factors - such as language and cultural barriers, particularly for new immigrants - that contribute to a higher risk of HIV infection.
New Jersey state health officials say they dispatch mobile HIV testing units throughout the state, and print their HIV/AIDS literature in Spanish as well as English.
"They access medical care only when needed, when they're feeling very sick, in the late stages," said Catherine Correa, the director of the Ryan White Grants Division of the Paterson Department of Human Services. "They also believe that there's no real treatment for HIV, so they think eWhy get tested?'"
Buddies of New Jersey, a nonprofit group based in Hackensack that provides a myriad of services for people infected with HIV or AIDS, has been seeing an increase in newly diagnosed Latinos, said case manager Marie Hill. Although no statistics are available, she said the rise is more from sexual activity rather than from drug use.
"People are failing to protect themselves when they are having sex, regardless of whether they are having it with men or women," Hill said. "And we're seeing an increase in people between 18- and 24-years-old being diagnosed."
HIV/AIDS infection among Hispanics
New Jersey:

49,528 people are living with HIV/AIDS as of 2006 (CDC)
9,763 Hispanics are living with HIV/AIDS as of 2007 (DoH)
United States:
By the end of 2006, an estimated 80,690 Hispanics/Latinos with AIDS in the 50 states and the District of Columbia had died (CDC)
More than 1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS as of 2006 (CDC)
Sources: federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); state Department of Health (DoH)
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