New HIV Strain Affects Latinos Disproportionately, says Local HIV Agency

Press Release Date: 02/11/2005 Contact Information Heriberto Sanchez Soto, Executive Director Tel: (212) 563-4500


In response to Friday's announcement by the New York City Department of Health regarding a new drug resistant HIV strain that may develop into AIDS within a month?s time, Heriberto Sanchez Soto, Executive Director for the Hispanic AIDS Forum, declared today that public health officials and Latino leaders must act quickly so past mistakes are not repeated and that Latinos are aware of the new strain. Sanchez Soto said that when HIV first hit the gay community in the 80s, very little information was created to educate Latinos about the illness, a failure that resonates today in the disproportionate number of Latinos living with HIV/AIDS and continuing to become infected at alarming rates. "We must make certain that our public health system responds with an approach to community education that takes its cues from earlier mistakes, which means a swift and sustained public education campaign" said Sanchez Soto. ?Latinos are not only disproportionately affected by HIV; they also have a tendency to delay testing for HIV, which makes HIV treatment regimens less effective against the disease. When a new strain is drug resistant and progresses so quickly, we have good reason to be alarmed. The conditions are prime for the emergence of an epidemic within an epidemic, if Latinos are once again not informed of this alarming new development.? Although Latinos constitute 27% of New York City's population, they comprise 31% of all AIDS cases. Forty percent of all recent AIDS cases for Latinos are among young men who have sex with men (MSM). From 1990 to 1999, this number has increased by 38%, while the number for white MSM men has decreased by 29%. The number of Latinas who now live with AIDS has increased by over 53% in the past ten years as well. Sanchez Soto said that HAF would respond with culturally appropriate Spanish-language materials to ensure more Latinos become educated on this latest development. He said he will dedicate staff to distributing this information throughout New York as early as next week and will encourage more people to get tested during an HIV Testing Campaign scheduled to take place February 14th to the 21st. HAF is a proponent of routine testing for HIV as part of regular medical check-ups and has conducted citywide HIV testing campaigns in collaboration with other non-profits since 2001, aiming to have as many Latinos as possible test for HIV regardless of perceptions of risk and vulnerability to HIV infection. The latest developments concerning the evolving nature of HIV makes it even more urgent to push forward with such campaigns. Next week?s HIV testing campaign, titled "Stop, love yourself, take the test," was created in response to recent reports that indicate Latino men who have sex with men engage in riskier sexual behavior because of their perception that condom-less sex is more "intimate." Sanchez Soto stated that the news of new strain, as tragic and sad as it might be, gives new momentum to public education efforts regarding the tragic consequences of HIV infection, as well as an opportunity to mobilize people into action in preventing HIV by adopting healthier behaviors. Hispanic AIDS Forum is New York's oldest and largest HIV/AIDS health promotion organization targeting Latinos. The organization was founded in 1985 by Latino activists and social services employees concerned on the impact HIV was having on the Latino community. Since then, the organization has evolved into a full service health promotion agency, providing free HIV testing, HIV treatment education, counseling and emotional support. For more information, please contact Miguel Bonilla at 212-868-6230.