Leaders From Across The Nation Demand a Heightened Federal Response to the Growing Threat of HIV/AIDS in the Latino Community.

Washington, D.C. (CapitalWirePR) — Hispanic/Latino community leaders, Health department officials and elected representatives gathered this past week in Congress to urge Federal Agencies and Congress to recognize and adequately address the disproportionate toll HIV/AIDS is having on Hispanic communities nationwide. To date, the Federal response has not met the diverse and complex needs of the Latino communities.

“We recognize the need for increased awareness of HIV/AIDS in our communities of color,” said Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis, Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Health and the Environment Task Force Priorities and longtime leader in the fight to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities.

“We also support increased funding for the Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative and its focus on HIV/AIDS prevention, research and treatment, the prevention of tuberculosis and Hepatitis C infections among HIV/AIDS patients and encouraging international HIV/AIDS organizations to expand efforts in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean,” she added.

HIV/AIDS and U.S. Latinos
Of the approximately 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, nearly 200,000 are Latino. Latinos have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, accounting for more than 19 percent of AIDS cases diagnosed in 2006 while comprising only 15 percent of the U.S. population.

Latinos in the US are testing positive for HIV, diagnosed with AIDS and dying from the disease at higher rates than Whites. As the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in the US, addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS in the Latino community takes on increased importance in efforts to improve the nation’s health.

“Every part of the Latino family is being affected by this epidemic,” said Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, President of the Hispanic Federation. “If we are to reverse this alarming trend we need to unite all of our community —elected, religious and community leaders— to fight for and demand equity in HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Collaboration is the Key
In the absence of a coordinated Federal response, Latino leaders have not stood still in the face of this alarming threat.

While simultaneously advocating for more Federal action, Latino leaders have melded together a growing network of support through collaborative partnerships with local/state healthcare systems, CBO’s, Hispanic Media outlets, and private foundation partners.

That partnership, the National Hispanic/Latino AIDS Action Network (NLAAN) will emphasize the collective’s progress to date, raise awareness of recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data that reflect an additional 40% more HIV cases than previously reported, and will continue to advocate for a comprehensive response to the AIDS crisis.

NLAAN progress to date
¡Adelante! – 2008 NASTAD Latino Call to Action — The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), the chief organization representing state health department HIV/AIDS program directors, will release a new Call to Action ¡Adelante! Strengthening the Response to HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis in Latino Communities.

“Woefully inadequate funding and pervasive indifference towards the cultural realities of Latino communities have created the perfect storm, leaving thousands of Latinos to pay the ultimate price,” remarked Julie Scofield, NASTAD’s Executive Director.

“Public health officials must scale up their prevention, treatment, and care programs to effectively address the HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis epidemics in Latinos communities,” Scofield continued.

National Latino Agenda Update – In January 2008 at the Latino AIDS Summit, a foundation was laid for the development of a National Latino AIDS Agenda (www.latinoaidsagenda.org) focused on; (1) educating Latinos, the media, elected officials and health policy decision-makers, (2) encouraging Latino communities across the country to form their own state specific agendas for action.

Today leaders highlighted some of the progress to date, specifically; Advances in working with the CDC to provide epidemiological data that accurately represent HIV/AIDS among Latinos.

The CDC was asked to provide more complete and accurate state- and territory-level race/ethnicity data to integrate Puerto Rico-specific data into estimates of Latino HIV/AIDS cases presented in the annual CDC National HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report.

Congressman Luis Fortuño, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, commenting on the need to be as inclusive in the data gathering and analysis, said: “it is important that the CDC make every effort to count everyone, including Puerto Rico.

And within that effort, ensure that they appropriately make the correct racial/ethnic delineations. Otherwise all Latinos run the risk of being undercounted and perhaps programs designated for the community could be mistakenly underfunded.”

Latino Mentoring Training Institute (LMTI) – Based on the Leadership Track recommendations of the summit, the Office of Minority Health Resource Center (OMHRC) developed the LMTI a skills-building training program designed to increasing leadership, mentorship and conflict-management skills among community-based and faith-based organizations working in HIV/AIDS among Latino populations. This is essential to continue the HIV prevention efforts in the U.S.

National Latino AIDS Awareness Day – Through the NLAAN network over 400 organizations will venture into their respective communities on October 15, 2008 in a national social marketing campaign designed to educate Latinos about HIV/AIDS, encourage them to get tested for HIV, and advocate for improved treatment and care of those living with HIV/AIDS.

October 15th was designated as NLAAD, as it culminates the celebration of Hispanic Heritage month and represents a call to action to Latinos across the country to protect the ones you love by getting tested for HIV.

SOY… (“I am…”) a public service campaign – In conjunction with National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, Univision and the Kaiser Family Foundation have made available rights-free a new campaign featuring everyday Latinos living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

This innovative new public information initiative – called SOY… (“I am…”) — seeks to confront stigma and debunk myths about HIV by encouraging Latinos to talk openly about AIDS. A press release announcing the campaign’s launch is also available here: http://www.kff.org/newsroom/hiv091808.cfm

“We are moving forward” said Dennis DeLeon, President of the Latino Commission on AIDS he continued; “We have demonstrated that through collaborative partnerships with local/state healthcare systems, CBOs, Hispanic Media outlets, and private foundation partners much can get done”.

“However, we need the full support of the current and new administration in developing and implementing a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis,” he pointed out.

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