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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This is exactly the time to address the HIV/AIDS Needs of Latinos in the United States

If we are to reach an AIDS-Free generation, we must Renew, Refocus and Reengage ourselves, our partnerships, and our hermanas y hermanos in the diverse Latino communities throughout the United States. By renewing, refocusing and re-engaging our commitments, we can insure that the diverse needs of Latinos across the United States are considered and addressed. Part of our strategy must entail enhancing the Latino HIV epidemiology and surveillance data in the US. Many Latinos are still not included in these datasets and thus we have an incomplete picture of how this epidemic is truly impacting our communities. In order to reach the goals of our National AIDS Strategy, Latinos have to be at the table. While it was a great step to have the International AIDS Conference (IAC) back on US soil, Latinos were largely left out of the major discussions and barely any data in the session programs included Hispanics/Latinos. How are we to make progress as a nation fighting a 30-year epidemic if Latinos are not part of these scientific advancement discussions?

Let me throw out a few numbers. Hispanics/Latinos are now 16.4% of the US population – one in every 6 individuals in the United States is Hispanic. Ten of the states with the fastest growing Hispanic population are in the Deep South. For example, South Carolina saw over 147% Hispanic growth in the past decade. Furthermore, the Deep South is seeing an increase in its HIV incidence rate. Where does this leave the emerging Hispanic Population – the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States – in regards to the HIV/AIDS epidemic? They are left in the cross hairs of the epidemic.

Back to the numbers. Latinos/Hispanics constitute 20% of new HIV infections and a larger percentage of Hispanics progress to AIDS within a year of HIV diagnosis than all other groups. Once diagnosed with AIDS, there is a very small chance of regaining immune function one had previously. Listen to this: Hispanic males are 3 times as likely to have AIDS as compared to white males. Furthermore, Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely than non-Hispanic white males to die of HIV (CDC, 2010). What about Hispanic women? They are 4.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white females. What does this all mean?

Hispanics are a growing part of our communities. They are ostensibly the future of the United States yet they are lacking access to healthcare. Hispanics in the United States are already experiencing an unemployment rate of 10.3% and the Hispanic poverty rate is 26.7% , which provides structural barriers to accessing healthcare. For healthier communities and a healthier, vibrant United States we must address the health disparities – including access to healthcare system (and ostensibly health insurance) – that exist in the Hispanic communities.

We should note that the pending “sequestration”- the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts contained in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that will take place January 2, 2013 unless Congress and the President come to an agreement – will cause major upheaval in social safety nets across the country. There has been no agreement on how $1.2 trillion in budget cuts will occur. It is supposed that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other government agencies will receive 8% cuts, and this will undoubtedly trickle down to communities. What will happen to the HIV/AIDS funding going forward?

Here is one last set of numbers to ponder. This is the 10-year commemoration of National Latino AIDS Awareness Day: A day to raise awareness and unify Latinos in the fight against HIV/AIDS. By the end of 2008, an estimated 111,438 Latinos with an AIDS diagnosis has died in the United States and dependent territories. In 2007, HIV was the fourth leading cause of death among Latinos aged 35-44 and the sixth leading cause of death among Latinos aged 25-34 in the US. Latinos are the youngest population in the United States and HIV poses a very real problem to our youth, our future leaders. We are at a crossroads: emerging population, rising incidence rates, high unemployment and poverty rates and looming federal budget cuts.

We must Renew, Refocus, and Reengage our commitment to addressing HIV/AIDS and health disparities in the Latino communities across the United States:

· This is exactly the time when we must renew our commitment to strengthening our communities;

· This is exactly the time when we must refocus and hone our efforts to ensure we have clear, achievable goals;

· This is exactly the time when we must re-engage our communities in dialogues centered around solutions and strategies that are action-oriented.

written by @miriamyvega