Friday, October 4, 2013

Why your voice matters at this year’s National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD).



This year marks the 11th annual observance of National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD).  NLAAD is one of a series of National HIV/AIDS Awareness Days occurring throughout the year that focus on various communities.  The goal of these observances is to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and to ensure that community members get tested for HIV.

As a gay Latino man who has been HIV positive for six years, I know the meaning and power that comes with getting tested and being an informed individual.  Finding out my status really reinforced my belief in taking an active role in my health care with my medical provider.  What my personal experience mirrored is what various studies have indicated, that knowing one’s status and engaging in quality health care leads to better health outcomes.

This year proves to be an important and exciting year in public health.  Finally we are seeing the convergence of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and Healthy Chicago, which brings into focus efforts to provide a comprehensive and coordinated approach to address longstanding public health issues.  For example, the ACA will ensure the continuation and expansion of essential medical services for Americans, including Latinos and Latinos Living with HIV/AIDS.    Having worked with community partners in the rural south, I know this is great news for those jurisdictions where historically there have been gaps in the delivery of services and medical care.  It feels like progress and access to healthcare is finally coming to those most in need.

However, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures remind us why HIV/AIDS Awareness Days are still an important community effort to address the epidemic.  In 2009, Latinos accounted for 20% of new HIV infections in the United States while representing approximately 16% of the total US population.  As CDC states, Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/racialethnic/hispaniclatinos/facts/index.html).  In Chicago, the Latino population accounts for 17% percent of the city’s reported cases of HIV, which is similar to the national trend.   Locally, one statistic that stands out is the number of HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM) who were not aware of their HIV infection.  For Latino MSM, 21% of those HIV-infected were not aware of their infection in 2011 (http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdph/infectious_disease/STI_HIV_AIDS/MSMReport2012.pdf).

On a local level, I’m excited to be working at Center on Halsted and with various local partners and stakeholders to observe NLAAD.  This year, we are co-hosting a series of community events that focus on dialogue and engagement about HIV/AIDS within the Latino LGBTQ community on Chicago’s north side.  Many organizations, including Center on Halsted, have a long-standing commitment to working on addressing HIV/AIDS, but we can all agree that a local, coordinated effort and conversation needs to be sustained.  It is such a happy surprise that this year’s NLAAD theme is “Commit to Speak”/“Comprom├ętete a Hablar.”  With so much movement on the national and state level, the most important step that still needs to occur is ongoing, local conversations that lead to a more coordinated and common approach to HIV/AIDS.

As someone who has worked in public health for over a decade, I know that the most dynamic work happens at the local and regional level - where the community goes out and speaks intimately with other community members about the impact and reality of HIV/AIDS and commits itself to deliver essential services.  It is at this level where the spirit of all of these national, state and local strategies comes into action. I hope you take a moment to commit to speak about HIV/AIDS in your community.

Interested in joining us to observe NLAAD?  On Thursday, October 17, 2013, please come join us at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL 60613. Click here to register: community.centeronhalsted.org/nlaad

We are happy to announce that the following organizations will be participating in the observance of NLAAD at Center on Halsted.  This includes Access Community Health Network (ACCESS); aChurch4Me Metropolitan Community Church (MCC);  the Association of Latino Men in Action (ALMA); CALOR; Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH); Circuit Night Club; Lambda Legal; National Museum of Mexican Art; Project PrEPare; Project Vida;  Queer Tango; Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center; Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN); United Latino Pride; and Vida/SIDA.

By: Christian Castro, MA - JSI Study Coordinator at Center on Halsted.