Minnesota participates in Latino AIDS Awareness Day

Events throughout St. Paul and Minneapolis Wednesday hope to contain HIV among Latinos in the community while informing them as well. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has designated Oct. 15 as Latino AIDS Awareness Day in Minnesota. HIV is a problem in the Latino community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanics have the second highest rate of new HIV infections in the country, behind blacks. Across Minneapolis and St. Paul, there are different places where Latinos can get tested and attend informational sessions about HIV. Roy Nelson, a representative from the HIV and STD section at the Minnesota Department of Health, helped organize all the events in Minnesota. He said they provide a great convenience for those unsure of whether they have HIV. âÄúWeâÄôre not encouraging them to come out to us,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to them. ItâÄôs a big difference.âÄù Nelson said one of the problems is the hassle it normally takes to get tested. Instead of getting an appointment with the doctor and having to worry about a paper trail, testing locations make it easier to get tested. âÄúHere you can get it done in a matter of minutes instead of hours,âÄù he said. All the events focus on HIV testing, but most of them are more than that, Sara Khalfa , assistant director of HIV testing for the events, said. âÄúWhen we go out and do testing, itâÄôs not just, âÄòHey, weâÄôve got tests,âÄôâÄù she said. âÄúIt usually has a DVD playing that has educational information on it.âÄù One event in particular at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center in St. Paul will have a locally-produced video on HIV prevention in Hispanic communities. The movie is premiering for the first time, program manager Judy Ojeda said. After the movie, there will be a panel discussion with people who participated in the filming of the video. âÄúA lot of our participants can relate to it,âÄù she said. Minnesota first started recognizing Latino AIDS Awareness Day in 2004. A state of Minnesota survey revealed that nearly 75 percent of Hispanics diagnosed with HIV in 2003 were diagnosed with AIDS less than one year later. That number has decreased significantly, but nearly 50 percent of Hispanics who were diagnosed in 2006 had AIDS by 2007. âÄúAn early diagnosis can lead to better care right away which will lead to minimizing some symptoms that would come into play,âÄù Khalfa said. Although most sessions are on Wednesday, there are many throughout October. Khalfa said that she expects 40 to 50 people to get tested Wednesday, but around 200 people to get tested throughout October.