My PrEP Plea!

It is exciting that we are on the brink of a new era – the advent of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce the risk of getting HIV. At the moment, PrEP is on the uptake in certain communities, and there are many efforts to make it widely available. But I have a concern.

Youth under the age of 18 need parental consent/consent of legal guardian to access PrEP in New York State. This is problematic and presents a barrier. Youth under the age of 18 may be the ones MOST at risk and that could benefit most from PrEP in their toolbox for making informed sexual and reproductive health (SRH) choices for themselves, as they may have limited to no access to relationships with adult guardians for a variety of complicated and often traumatic reasons.

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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

To Feign Ignorance: A Coping Tactic

With the Being Visible Report now released, I have been rehashing all the stories we heard over the past two years. As a team, we travelled across seven states, driving through back roads and cities, speaking with everyday people in the community – tienda owners in small-town Louisiana, farm workers in rural South Carolina, and Hispanic journalists in Alabama. We also met with people who have dedicated their lives to helping others access healthcare and live dignified lives, working in clinics, AIDS service organizations, health departments, churches and civic organizations. Looking back on all this time spent travelling around the South hearing about the health challenges and triumphs in local communities, there is one quote I really cannot get out of my head….

But first, a little back-story: In the past few months, I have been living outside the US – in Thailand. Here, busses with wooden flooring barely stop for you to jump on or off, there are five tones in the language (where “ma” has five different meanings, for each of the five tones), and it takes a month to figure out how to get Internet to your apartment. It’s exciting and exhausting at the same time. Every day is an eternity, in a good way. Continue reading