Hispanics Devastated by
High Rate of AIDS
By Lee Bowman
Scripps Howard News Service
WASHINGTON ( -- With a rate of infection 50 percent greater than their numbers in the population, half of all Hispanics in a new survey feel AIDS is the nation's most urgent health problem.
Even though new anti-viral drugs have succeeded in cutting the death rate among people infected with HIV dramatically, they do not eliminate the infection entirely, and concern about the disease remains high in the most vulnerable populations.
The HIV infection rate for Hispanic males is three times that of non-Hispanic whites; among women, the rate is six times as great. And, along with blacks, for whom the per-capita infection rate is even higher, the decline in death rates has not accelerated as much for Hispanics as for whites.
"At a time when public perception moves in the direction of viewing HIV/AIDS as a manageable disease, Hispanic communities continue to be devastated by this epidemic," said Jane Delgado, president of the National Coalition of Hispanic Health and Human Service Organizations.
More than 109,000 Hispanics have been diagnosed with the infection, a new report released by the coalition says, and more than 61,000 have died, since data on the disease was first collected in 1982.
A national conference of Hispanic leaders is meeting at Harvard University starting this weekend to discuss new and better ways of responding to the epidemic in their communities.
The survey, released Friday and conducted nationwide by phone in English and Spanish for the Kaiser Family Foundation, found much greater levels of worry about AIDS among Hispanics than in a general sample of all Americans. For instance, 46 percent of Latinos said they are "very worried" about becoming infected with HIV, a level of concern shared by just 24 percent of all Americans.
Most Hispanics have a good understanding of AIDS, with 98 percent of the adults surveyed aware that the virus is sexually-transmitted, and 92 percent knowing that a pregnant woman can pass the infection to her baby. But just 77 percent knew there is no cure, and just 68 percent responded correctly that there is no vaccine against HIV available.
Delgado noted that prevention strategies and educational approaches have to be tailored to address particular pathways of infection that are more or less prominent in different communities. For instance, most Hispanics in the northeastern states infected with HIV got the virus through intravenous drug use, while men having sex with men is the predominant infection cause among Hispanics in Florida, California, and the Southwest.
Dr. Sophia Chang, director of HIV Programs for the Kaiser Foundation, said "even those who are most knowledgeable about AIDS say there are areas they want to know more about, such as how to talk about this disease with children (70 percent) and with partners (51 percent) and where to go for testing and treatment if they are exposed."
Forty-one percent said they want more information about how to properly use condoms.
"These are very personal behaviors that we're discussing, and we have to be able to adapt material in a way that people are able to hear," Delgado said. "There's room for more action at all levels."

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