We now know the Latino community is one of the ethnic groups most affected by this pandemic. It suffers one of the highest rates of unemplyment due to their work in economic sectors that have been most affected by the consequences of the pandemic.
At the same time, the Latino community is still disproportionately impacted by new HIV diagnoses and many of our family members, friends or colleagues living with HIV suffer from HIV stigma: feeling ashamed and marginalized, and discouraged from getting tested or seeking treatment.
Luis Mares, Director of Community Mobilization and Coordinator of the National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLADD) at the Latino Commission on AIDS, says: “As we confront this new COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot dismay in our efforts to continue working to end the HIV epidemic that is disproportionately affecting the same communities– knowing that we have the tools to make it happen. As this year NLAAD’s theme states, unlike other viruses, ending the HIV epidemic is at our fingertips, the tools to end this HIV epidemic are at our reach.”
In many places it has been possible to flatten the curve of new cases of COVID-19 by exercising our individual responsibility and our collective commitment of wearing masks and keeping social distance. Similarly, it is literally in our hands to flatten the curve of HIV now and help end stigma and discrimination.
“We must continue our efforts to promote HIV testing, prevention, and retention in care and treatment– basic tools we have to end the HIV epidemic. We must continue to work together to improve the health outcomes, address the stigma and discrimination, and health disparities, all major barriers impacting our diverse communities,” says Luis Mares.
The first step is to recognize that HIV stigma comes from fear, lack of information, as well as our prejudices and beliefs. One way to verify this is by identifying those words, attitudes or actions that make us associate HIV with negative or morally unacceptable behaviors.
What is HIV stigma? When we believe that only certain people can get HIV, when we negatively judge people who take steps to prevent transmission, or when we think that someone deserves HIV because of the decisions they have made in their life. It’s also when we refer to HIV or AIDS as something you “catch” or “pass”. We should be saying instead “diagnosed”, “acquire”, or “transmit.”
Few things bother us Latinos as much as being discriminated against, but when we avoid casual contact with a person living with HIV or isolate them socially because of their condition, we are enabling discrimination. Stigma and discrimination can cause feelings of shame and hopelessness and make it more difficult for a person to get tested or get help.
The reality is that ALL of us can contribute to being part of the solution to flatten the curve of new transmissions, and together stop the stigma and discrimination of HIV. Today for you, tomorrow for me.