Wake Up Call: HIV/AIDS & Latino's

Within the United States alone there are over one million people currently living with HIV, and about one-fourth of them are unaware that they are infected. “These numbers are a scathing indictment of how profoundly U.S. and CDC HIV efforts have failed,” Michael Weinstein, the president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation told CNN. These numbers are disproportionately impacting minorities. African Americans account for an astounding 45% of new HIV cases each year, while Latinos represent a frightening 22% of new diagnoses. African American’s still suffer the largest rates of new infection; but language and cultural barriers, as well as the constant threat of deportation for undocumented immigrants may increase the chance of infection and make detection and treatment more difficult for Latinos. CDC epidemiologist Kenneth Dominguez told the Washington Post, “Minorities are overrepresented in this epidemic, and we need to target our efforts to them.”

Frank Galvan of the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles points out, “You combine the economic pressures, loneliness and immigration worries, and it pushes individuals to be a hidden population.”

Mexicana Rosario Mancillas, faced some of these cultural challenges head on. A 45-year-old lesbian living in Tijuana, Rosario was feeling the pressure to give her parents a grandchild. Mancillas looked into methods of conception and initially tried a sperm bank, but found the process cold and impersonal. Instead she and a gay male friend decided to try and conceive. Although she never got pregnant, three years later Rosario found herself at the hospital with pain in her abdomen. It was then that Rosario and her father received the news that she was HIV positive. At the time she was given only six months to live. “In my country, if you have HIV and are a woman, you are a prostitute.” Despite seemingly impossible circumstances, Mancillas refused to give up hope. With help from doctors in California, her six month death sentence was extended for at least another 11 years.

Rosario was lucky; she’s a U.S. citizen with medical coverage and was eligible for aid via disability benefits. For Rosalia Vargas, an undocumented mother, the constant threat of deportation has meant a daily struggle for her and her five year old son.