African Americans And Latinos Are Most Affected By HIV, New Report Shows

LOS ANGELES -- Just a few days before the AIDS Walk in Los Angeles will take place on Oct. 16, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a report stating that African Americans and Hispanics are the groups most affected by HIV.

African Americans represent approximately 14 percent of the population in the United States and Hispanics make up approximately 16 percent of the population, according to 2010 census data. But the CDC report shows they are disproportionately affected by HIV -- African Americans account for 44 percent of the 48,100 new HIV cases diagnosed in 2009, while Hispanics account for 20 percent of the new HIV cases. In 2009, African American men had the highest rates of new HIV cases (103.9 new cases for every 100,000 people), followed by Hispanic men (39.9) and African American women (39.7).

The CDC report also indicates that gay and bisexual men remain the most affected by HIV in the United States. Men who have sex with men (MSM) represent 2 percent of the population in the United States, but account for more than 50 percent of all new HIV cases recorded between 2006 and 2009, the CDC estimates.

"What we now see are more new cases of HIV/AIDS among members of the male gay community between the ages of 13 and 24," said Vallerie D. Wagner, director of AIDS Project Los Angeles.

Emilio German, a CDC public health analyst, said that many Latinos get tested too late, when the infection has already progressed and treatment will be not as helpful. "The sooner you get tested, the more effective treatment is likely to be…you must remember that an HIV test can save your life," he said.

"The HIV/AIDS epidemic," German said, is "so diverse" that the disease differs among men coming from Mexico, Central America, Cuba and South America. "CDC data indicates that Puerto Ricans are more likely to be infected by an intravenous drug user (IDU) or high-risk heterosexual contact than Latinos born in other places," he said.

The major obstacles for Latinos who suffer from HIV/AIDS, German added, include "cultural ignorance, lack of knowledge of the English language, stigmatization, discrimination, chauvinism, drug use and sexual relations with multiple partners."

The most recent account by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, published on Dec. 15, 2009, reported a total of 56,091 HIV/AIDS cases and 31,448 deaths for that year.

“Latinos now account for the highest number and proportion of AIDS cases in LA,” the report stated, based on 2007 census population data available at the time.

Out of the total number of cases of people infected with AIDS in Los Angeles County in 2009, Hispanics (including white and black Latinos) accounted for more than 33 percent of AIDS cases, African Americans accounted for 20 percent of cases and Caucasians accounted for 44 percent of cases. (Since Hispanics are a multi-racial group, and many of them consider themselves “white,” percentages can add up to more than 100 percent.)

Hispanics also surpass all ethnic groups among Persons Living with AIDS, one category in the L.A. County report. They represent 40 percent, or 9,930 cases out of a total of 24,603 individuals, followed by Caucasians (36 percent, or 8,753 cases) and African Americans (21 percent, or 5,077 cases).

Alex Castillo, a 26-year-old male originally from El Salvador who is HIV positive, said "this is pretty much like a race which I hope we never win," in response to the high incidence numbers among Latinos. Castillo is a gay activist for the Los Angeles-based AIDS service organization Bienestar.

Victor Martinez, director of programs and public affairs for Bienestar, attributes the high HIV rates among Latino gay men in part to drug usage. He said he has seen a rise in the number of young, gay Latinos coming to the organization for drug treatment in past years. "The increased use of crystal methamphetamine has been a catalyst for many young gay Latinos to have more unprotected sex with an increased number of partners."

"This situation is destroying all our efforts from the last two decades to improve the health and lifespan of young Hispanics in the L.A. area," Martinez added. "We had managed to stabilize the epidemic, but in the last five years we are coming face to face with a tsunami that is striking the Latino gay community."