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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 41
Is HIV Awareness Enough?
Section One
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Is HIV Awareness Enough?

by Dr. Joanne Stekler - Special to the SGN

Joanne Stekler, M.D, MPH, is deputy director of community services for the HIV/STD Program at Public Health - Seattle & King County. She is also an internal medicine and infectious disease physician at Harborview Medical Center, and assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Washington.

This article is part of a series focusing on HIV and other STD prevention and care topics for Gay/Bisexual men and Transgender individuals in Seattle and King County.


This Saturday, October 15, is the ninth annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day. It's one of several days throughout the year that are meant to get people thinking and talking about HIV and AIDS.

In Seattle, just like the rest of the country, HIV is having a big impact in communities of color. Latinos make up 6% of the population locally but about twice that proportion - 13% - of people newly diagnosed with HIV. Gay and Bi men make up most of these new infections, and the greatest number is in guys in their 20s and 30s.

Why is this?

Well, I can't tell you for certain, but I can tell you why it isn't. It isn't because Latino guys are taking more risks than non-Latino guys. It isn't because lots of Latino men are secretly having sex with other men. And it isn't because there are differences in HIV testing rates among Latinos compared to other groups.

Maybe Latino guys have more partners whose HIV status they don't know. Maybe they don't talk about HIV status as much, or in the same way. Maybe it's because Latinos have less access to prevention and other healthcare services, or maybe it's just because they're often playing with each other in a smaller 'sandbox.' If Latinos are mostly having sex with other Latinos, it's easier for HIV and other infections to spread to more guys in the group. In a larger sandbox, you may be less likely to play with someone who is HIV-positive and so less likely to get infected.

For National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, Public Health and Entre Hermanos, a Seattle Latino LGBT organization, made a short video called Todos Juntos: Campaña Latina para la Prueba del VIH (All Together: The Latino HIV Testing Campaign). You can find the video at entrehermanos.org. In it, Seattle Latinos and Latinas of all ages and orientations talk about how they're being responsible and taking care of themselves, their partner(s), and their communities.

Now I know that 'responsibility' can be a loaded word that brings up images of consequences and blame. But feeling responsible can lead us to care and then to take action. Self-care in particular is important, and most of us don't do it nearly enough.

In terms of HIV, self-care means knowing your HIV status. It means seeing your doctor if you're HIV-positive. It means using condoms with partners if you're not in a monogamous relationship.

Caring for others means asking your friends if they've been tested lately. And if they haven't, it may mean offering them support and going with them for their test.

Caring for your community means being out of the closet, if you can be. It means standing up for equality and equity whenever possible. It means that HIV impacts you, whether you and your partner(s) are HIV-negative or HIV-positive. HIV impacts all of us.

You may be a strong guy who thinks you don't ever need to see a doctor. You may think you don't have the time or money to get a test. You may not want to get a test in a place where you're afraid people may know you. Confusion and stigma still exist around this disease. Add language barriers, lack of insurance, and immigration issues, and HIV becomes even harder to talk about.

But there are lots of locations to get tested in Seattle, and testing is free or inexpensive at many places.

If you're Gay or Bi and sexually active, you should get tested for HIV/STDs at least once a year. If you're a Latino guy who has sex with other guys, HIV testing is now being offered at Entre Hermanos on Mondays from 1 to 5 p.m. and at Consejo the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. You can always get tested at Public Health's STD Clinic, at Gay City, at the baths, or at your doctor's office. For hours and locations, call 206-296-4649 or go to www.kingcounty.gov/health/hiv.

It's not enough to be aware.

Cuídate. Take care of yourself. Take care of your partner(s). Take care of your community.

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