National Latino AIDS Awareness Day: A Perspective from Puerto Rico

By Rob Banaszak on October 15, 2012 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Puerto Rico Direct Grantmaking

by Peter M. Shepard Rivas, MS
Coaí, Inc

The HIV epidemic is a serious public health threat to the Hispanic/Latino community. Latinos account for 20% (9,400) of new HIV infections (including residents of Puerto Rico), which is itself 16% of the total population of the United States (CDC HIV/AIDS among Hispanics / Latinos Fact Sheet, Revised 11/2011). In terms of the statistics of the United States and its territories, Puerto Rico is among the top of incidence and prevalence of AIDS in adults.

According to the summary of the Office of Research and AIDS Surveillance, Department of Health regarding the HIV epidemic in Puerto Rico, each day three persons are diagnosed on the island (11/2009) with an average of 1,116 cases reported annually. Based on data from the Division of AIDS Surveillance as of September 30, 2012, Puerto Rico has  reported 35.080 AIDS cases and 8.961 diagnosed HIV cases since June 2003. In terms of the objective population that we reach in our program, cumulative AIDS cases diagnosed at 30/09/12 in adults and adolescents for the risk behavior of men who have sex with men (MSM) account for 17% (N = 34.696), the second category by gender (Men who are injection drug users (IDU) – 39% and Heterosexual Females 15%). Also the category of MSM-IDU represents 7% (N = 35.080). The importance of addressing the HIV situation in Puerto Rico, especially our metropolitan statistical area, has been the reason that we have has become one of the 12 cities participating in the effort of Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Planning (ECHPP). This initiative and the development of our comprehensive prevention plan put us on par with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

The impact that HIV has had on Puerto Rican society necessitates that we constantly reinforce public information strategies and awareness. The National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) is an effort to alert our citizens that, as Latinos, it is important to know how to prevent HIV and to know our status. Moreover, the political situation of Puerto Rico creates an “air bridge” between the island and mainland with a constant exchange between the islanders and residents of the U.S., creating special ties with the Latino community within states and other territories. Although NLAAD-related activities are still under development in Puerto Rico, every year people are more aware of this observance and its importance to eradicate stigma of  HIV/AIDS in the hope that, not only people living with HIV/AIDS have a healthy without harm, but everyone who might be at- risk have access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment services.

For the past seven years in Coaí, Inc., and our Aché program we have been providing HIV tests and health education & risk reduction. With AIDS United funds our program recruits MSM (HIV negative at risk or HIV positive) to participate in a preventive and educational intervention known as Many Men, Many Voices (3MV). Through this model MSM acquire knowledge and tools to prevent or reduce damage for HIV infection. It also serves as a vehicle to reinforce in our participants the importance of getting tested. So in commemoration of NLAAD, our program will be distributing condoms, information and conducting HIV tests in places where the population we serve socializes on October 15.

Coaí, Inc is a grantee of AIDS United’s Puerto Rico grantmaking initiative

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