What PrEP means for me?

I remember how much I had to adjust myself in order to succeed in a tough city such as New York when I came to the US three years ago. It wasn’t easy. But after so much hard work, sacrifices, and sadness over being so far away from my family and people I love, I must say that it was really worth it!!!

I have always believed that everything happens for a reason. I spent five years studying very hard to get my Bachelor Degree in Human Resources and then four years working in the field; both in my home country Venezuela. The first months I spent in New York, I was constantly fighting a lack of motivation because I felt I was never going to get a job in my field.
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A year and a half later, I got the wonderful opportunity to start working at the Latino Commission on AIDS in the Research and Evaluation department. I must confess that I was so scared because this was a brand new thing for me. I never imagined using statistical analysis software, interpreting data, or networking with important people in the health field and also learning so much about behavioral interventions, capacity-building assistance, advocacy, and HIV testing.

Last year, I heard the word “PrEP” and terms such as “are you PrEPared?” and “#TruvadaWhore” for the first time.   As a person working in the health field, specifically data and research, I had to learn about all of this in order to be updated in my new field. But I didn’t consider the chance of using PrEP myself, because I was scared of possible side effects and also giving a bad impression to the people I would potentially date.
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Dr. Miriam Vega Posdcast Interview with anthropologist Aaron Dabbah

Interviewer:  Welcome to our January podcast.  My name is Aaron Dabbah, anthropologist and blogger, and I’m here with Dr. Miriam Vega of the Latino Commission on AIDS, discussing a publication released this week entitled “The State of Latinos in the Deep South: Being Visible by Piercing the Stigma Veil”.  We all know that Latinos are now the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority group, with a population increasing from 9.5 million in 1970 to over 53 million in 2012, projected to reach 129 million by 2060.  Just as it is a mistake to assume all Latinos are the same, it is a mistake to assume that the lived experience of Latinos is the same across the country.  Dr. Vega has recently conducted an ethnographic assessment of the State of Latinos in the Deep South, highlighting a region that has not often been closely associated with Latinos.  Welcome, Dr. Vega, and please tell us what led to your latest report.

Dr. Vega:  Thank you and greetings to the listeners.  Our last report on Latinos in the Deep South was released in December 2008.  At that time, Latinos were considered an “emerging” population in the South.  Now fast forward five few years later and we’ve had several large events that have put a spotlight on Latinos in the South that we felt necessitated a follow up assessment. Continue reading

The State of Latinos in the Deep South: Trying to Pierce the Stigma Veil

By Miriam Y Vega @miriamyvega

Our news cycle is short, and consequently our attention spans are shorter, thus stories about Latinos in America come and go with the political winds, primarily focusing on immigration or sensationalized crimes that make the dubious discovery that are “White-Hispanics” or debating the relative merits of Hispanic-Americans singing the National Anthem at sporting events.  Occasionally, usually in the month of October (the tail-end of Hispanic Heritage Month), all three story lines intersect.

In 2015, we started January off with a news item that may not get much traction in the press about the House Republicans taking on the dismantling of hard-won “protections” for undocumented immigrants.  Many argue that “illegals” are taking jobs or are here to live off the public system.  Still others, capitalizing on fears of terrorism, actually propose that Latinos pose a security hazard. Continue reading

What Keeps Me Up At Night

As an advocate at Woodhull Medical Center for a nonprofit organization that strives to address social determinants of health, I find my work both riveting and frustrating. Each week, I call a number of my clients, most of whom do not speak English, and the others hardly answer the phone to begin with.
How does a public health professional become a catalyst for change and empower those they work with?
I feel like I fail week after week when I do get in touch with my clients and they tell me things like “Oh I did not have time to go an apply for health insurance” or “I do not see the value in going back to school and taking GED classes when I need to work.” How do you convince someone that these social needs are actually essential? It is nearly impossible to create a sense of agency for someone who finds a need like adult education undesirable or inaccessible…but that is why the field of public health captivates me. Each day I try to find unique ways to market to my clients value-value in their own health. It is one thing to exhaustively explain to someone that educational status is in fact a lead indicator for poor health, and it is not always clear to everyone the impact of their routine on their overall quality of life. When clients of mine fear even setting foot into a hospital, you know there needs to be a change.
New York City has an abundance of resources. If there is one city in the United States that can address some facet of health, this would be the place, and though I am going to make a rather broad generalization, I do not believe every organization makes the most of their potential to maximize resources. I should not have to explain to someone living in one borough that they are better off traveling into another borough to receive quality service, or that help with their need does not exist in their specific borough. This goes back to the notion of accessibility and acceptability.  Is it feasible to ask someone to travel for a class or to fill out an application? (I hope you agree with me that the previous question is rhetorical). If the resource landscape in New York City as a whole is so robust that every other major city in the US looks to us to inform their own public health agenda, then why shouldn’t that be the case in each borough? Would overall health increase by providing permanent solutions to address borough-specific social determinants? It is by no means a panacea, and I know I am not the first person to question the system, but it is just some food for thought. My mind continuously wonders about my role in the public health of our community, and so, why not think about your own?
Written by Pilar Mendez
Contact: pmendez@latinoaids.org