New HIV vaccine trial to start in South Africa

FILE — In this Dec. 1, 2014 file photo a man makes a call on a mobile phone as he passes World AIDS Day banners on the perimeter of an office building in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa. June 27 is National HIV Testing Day.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

America has come a long way since those early, dark days of fear, myth and misconception when our nation first awoke to HIV/AIDS. This is even truer among Latinx communities where individuals and families affected by the disease persisted in keeping any discussion about HIV/AIDS a cultural taboo long after many other communities had embraced the conversation.

The League of United Latin American Citizens is proud to have led, as the nation’s oldest and largest Latinx legacy organization, the awareness and prevention efforts on HIV/AIDS to include millions of Latinx across the United States.

Since its founding in 1929, LULAC has sought to advance the agenda of the Latinx community. In its 90 years of service, it has worked to ensure that the voice of the community is heard and that the appropriate resources, including information, are reached at the grassroots level. In fact, LULAC councils collaborate with different organizations to leverage collective power — over 37 partners, 18 of which are new partners to promote HIV prevention and strategies in just the last year.

We recognize that our struggle is not simply about promoting safe sex practices or early testing and detection. LULAC is advocating that as a community, we must also fight to overcome the stigma and the prejudice deeply-rooted within the silent cultural shunning of men and women affected by HIV/AIDS. In this regard, we continue to lag behind and this is one barrier we must work aggressively to remove if we are to be more effective in reducing the incidence and mortality rates claimed by the virus.

Foremost among the persisting enemies our community is battling is the mistaken notion about the early warning signs of the virus, because sometimes there are none. This is why a cornerstone of LULAC’s work is in addressing the fact that one in six Latinx women and man are living with HIV but don’t realize it.

Also, the primary barriers to health as well as to HIV testing and care are poverty, migration patterns, lower educational levels, and language barriers. In 2015, the U.S. Census bureau reported that 22.6% of Hispanics in comparison to 10.4% of non-Hispanic whites were living at the poverty level.

Now, two new added complications are hampering the fight against HIV/AIDS in the U.S. Latinx population. The first is the increasingly adversarial immigration climate that is adding to an already chronic under-representation by Latinx whose immigration status may make it less likely for this population to use HIV prevention services to get tested or get treatment out of fear they may be detected and deported.

Equally challenging is the lack of medical insurance coverage made more acute under the Trump administration given its strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

For years, LULAC has championed community-based Ferias de Salud or local health fairs, the largest is held annually in downtown Los Angeles, as one of the best avenues for accessing the historically underserved Latinx population in targeted areas. These events have borne out that Latinx target demographics require using multiple and repeated approaches including culturally familiar media, faith communities, family and trusted friends to overcome inherent skepticism or lack of acceptance about HIV/AIDS messages.

LULAC is proud of its achievements in being an early pioneer in both listening and speaking about one of the most troubling health threats of our modern times. We look forward to continuing the work and on this day celebrate the victories thus far for millions of Latinx communities across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

LULAC is the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights organization. 2019 marks its 90th anniversary.