Hispanic Americans and AIDS: Erasing the Stigma

with JudeAnne Heath of LULAC

America’s Hispanic community is disproportionately impacted by HIV, representing 26% of new diagnoses in 2016.

JudeAnne Heath of LULAC shares how barriers to prevention like poverty, language and education can be overcome.

Posted on:

Aug 29, 2019

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: More than three decades after the first HIV diagnoses were made, stigma remains a barrier to addressing it in the United States. In the Latino community, one out of every six people with HIV are even unaware they have it. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Advocates say that issues like poverty, lower education levels, and language barriers make it even more difficult more America's Hispanic community to get HIV testing and care. Joining me to talk about that is JudeAnne Heath.] She is the senior director of community affairs and projects at LULAC. It's the League of United Latin American Citizens. JudeAnne, thank you for joining us. Heath: Thank you.

Anderson: So we heard about some of the major challenges in that introduction, but there is also the issue of sort of conservatism within the Latino community. What does that mean for your work?

Heath: It definitely creates a challenge. We've been working with the CDC to kind of erase the stigma that does surround HIV and AIDS. People tend to not want to seek out resources, to talk about it, or seek out prevention and care when they have it. One in six Latinos were unaware they were even diagnosed with HIV because of that stigma, so we're definitely working to try and erase such barriers.

Anderson: So, we know about some of the problems here, but LULAC has some of the solutions. What are you doing to sort of change the perception and encourage people to get help?

Heath: Absolutely. LULAC has been working with the CDC for the past four years to try and change the messaging, to make it culturally competent, to ensure that the messaging and the language reflects the people we're trying to educate. And so, because we're not a monolith community, what works in Texas might not work in California, and what may work for Mexican-Americans may not work for Guatemalans or any members of our community. So we're really trying to create materials that read the language that works for them, whether it's English, Spanish, or Spanglish. We're working with the CDC to provide HIV testing opportunities at local events where people feel comfortable and know the community and can reach out for resources and education.

Anderson: So, it sounds like a lot of the work that you do is really sort of at the grassroots level. This is a bottom-up approach. What are some of the things, or can you share some examples about what works in one community versus what works in another community?

Heath: Absolutely. So we work with all of our councils across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, we had a walk-a-thon that we're able to give out over 500 free HIV tests. For them, radio PSAs in Spanish were a huge hit that got the word out there and got community involved, and having it surrounding an event definitely worked for them. In other places, like Los Angeles, we have a huge Feria de Salud, so we included in other health resources, and that way, people feel like they can come out and not only get perhaps information on HIV and AIDS testing, but they can get other health needs and education resources met.

Anderson: So, you guys also do a lot of partnerships to get all of this done, because obviously you're working all across the country. Who are some of the businesses and companies that you're working for, and why is it important to make this sort of a group effort?

Heath: Absolutely. So, we work mainly with the CDC in this, and also we've worked with pharmacies like Walgreens. Puerto Rico worked with Walgreens on their walk-a-thon. We also work with local communities and programs. There was one called Arttitude that was in Dallas, and it was a traveling art exhibit, and so, people felt comfortable and artists were able to share their own stories and through their own medium that helped them highlight how HIV and AIDS impact them. And it truly made it more engaging and created a dialogue for them.

Anderson: So, this Arttitude, were these artists who were actually living with AIDS and HIV or...? Heath: Not all of them. Some of them were just impacted or were just able to tell their story about how HIV and AIDS or even the stigma or cultural attitudes impacted their life and their work, and were able to use 2-D and 3-D art to tell that story and highlight how important it is to get educated and tested and prevention.

Anderson: And are you noticing, as you're making your way through this and talking to people and working at the grassroots level -- How would you characterize the change that's going on in the community when it comes to perceptions about AIDS and HIV?

Heath: I would say, the more we have these events and the more education out there, the more people are open to. I think it was really hard at first, a few years ago, to try and say, "Hey, well, let's bring AIDS testing to your event. Let's bring HIV testing," and people are like, "Oh, no, no one will want to do that because of the stigma." But the more consistent we are, the more messaging we have that's culturally competent and reflects the community, the more people are open to this. So far, through our partnership, we've given over 4,000 tests nationwide and in Puerto Rico, and so we're truly seeing people now reach out to us and say, "Hey, we'd like to bring a testing event to our community. Hey, do you guys have any more information here?" And that is fantastic. Anderson: And, quickly, this is tough work, I mean, let's face it. What keeps you going?

Heath: Knowing that people out there are getting the help they need. In 2016, only 59% of Latinos actually sought out medical care when they were diagnosed with HIV, so trying to get that number higher. We want 100% of people to be able to seek out the medical care they need. Latino and Latina men and women are both affected by this, and so, we want to see the stigma erased, and we want to see people able to live and be a voice for their own community going forward.

Anderson: JudeAnne Heath, thank you so much.

Heath: Thank you.

Anderson: And thank you for joining us as well. For more conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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