Pawlenty announces Latino AIDS Awareness Day

Informational material on AIDS is often written in English, leaving nonspeakers in the cold.

Aby Ashley Wong
Special to the Daily

along with marking the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently declared Oct. 15 Latino AIDS Awareness Day in Minnesota.

Erica Torres, La Raza Student Cultural Center events coordinator and journalism senior, said it’s important to educate the Latino community about AIDS.

“(AIDS) is something that needs to be addressed so we can help our community,” she said. “It’s something that is not going to go away.”

La Raza board members said very few people are aware of Latino AIDS Awareness Day.

Roy Nelson, Minnesota Department of Health information and media specialist, said Latinos in the United States are disproportionably infected with HIV.

“(The day) is to call attention to impact the disease has had on the Latino community,” he said.

At the end of 2005, there were 377 Latinos living with HIV in Minnesota, according to the department of health. Since 1982, 115 Latinos have died from AIDS in Minnesota.

The National Latino AIDS Awareness Day planning committee in Minnesota didn’t limit the awareness to one day, but has events planned throughout the month.

Sara Khalfa, the outreach administrator for Southside Community Health Services, said continuing education through the month helps build trust and continuity of the message.

According to the awareness day Web site, the message is “to draw attention to the critical role HIV testing and prevention education plays in stemming the spread of AIDS.”

Khalfa said they are holding community-level events, health fairs, free HIV testing and training taught in Spanish.

Nelson said they also give starter facts courses, which provide information about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The courses “build the capacity to carry out the message throughout the year,” he said.

Latinos often miss years of needed medication because they don’t get tested, Nelson said.

“This group notoriously comes in testing late, sometimes 10 years after they are infected,” he said, “Forty-three percent come in with full-blown AIDS.”

According to the department, Latinos in Minnesota represented 8 percent of

all reported HIV cases in 2005 and had an infection rate more than four times higher than whites.

Khalfa said language barriers are partly to blame.

“Materials tend to be in English,” she said. “If you can’t read it, you’re out in the cold.”

She said there have been improvements in prevention materials and they are now written in more languages.

Language isn’t the only barrier. According to the awareness day’s Web site, other barriers include limited access to prevention, cultural barriers and immigration status.

A large part of the Latino population is immigrants, Torres said. Latinos are reluctant to come forward since AIDS is stereotyped as a gay disease, she said.

“They will not be accepted within their families,” Torres said. “It’s not something that is talked about in the community. It’s taboo.”

– Freelance Editor Yelena Kibasova welcomes feedback at [email protected].