City of Cleveland itself HIVAIDS cases involving Latinos
represent 20 percent of the overall population,” said Dr. Henry
NG, who specializes in medicine/pediatrics at Metro HealthCare
in Cleveland, OH. “In Cuyahoga County Latinos with HIV/AIDS
cases for Latinos is 4.6 times higher than for white
individuals. “What this means is that Hispanics are still having
an overwhelming burden than the overall population.”
Latino/Hispanics also bear a disproportionate burden of HIV in
the United States, representing 17 percent of the population but
21 percent of new HIV infections, according to the U.S. Center
for Disease Control.
Toledo-Lucas County has the fifth highest rate of persons known
to be living with HIV/AIDS of any major metropolitan county in
Ohio - 170 per 100,000, according to statistics from the Center
for Disease Control. Toledo is the fourth largest city in Ohio.
But the news isn’t as bad for Toledo/Lucas County’s Latino
community, which makes up 6.4 percent of Lucas County and
represents 7 percent of all AIDS cases in Lucas County, said
Jerry Kerr, coordinator of the Toledo-Lucas County Health
Department’s HIV Prevention Program. In many other communities
HIV/AIDS rates in the Latino community are disproportionately
higher to the overall population, he said.
“If we get two people of Latino descent who test positive for
HIV/AIDS in a year that would be serious cause for concern,”
said Mr. Kerr. “This year we have had no reports.”
Latino Rates Higher
According to the Ohio
Department of Health, overall state rates of HIV are almost
three times higher among Hispanic/Latino Ohioans than their
white counterparts. Latinos account for 5 percent of Ohioans
living with HIV, yet represent only 3 percent of the population.
bigger picture problem is that the Latino/Hispanic community
often doesn’t get tested right away, which causes other health
problems such as liver failure, heart problems and ongoing
infections, said Dr. NG, who addressed the issue during a
Hispanic Health Forum held in Cleveland in October.
complicated,” said Dr. NG. “Social and economic factors have
been identified as well as other potential factors such as
cultural and linguistic.”
health specialists in Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo are
working to address the problem by increasing outreach and
Toledo-Lucas County Health Department provides funding for
several organizations to help, including Nuestra Gente, a
nonprofit organization that provides Spanish-language programs
throughout the community, including farmworker camps in
provide health screenings at events, festival, even Mexican
restaurants,” said Nuestra Gente founder Linda Parra,
whose HIV/AIDS Latino outreach program also distributes free
condoms and Spanish-language literature to people. “The big
problem is that HIV/AIDS is a stigma in the community; people
don’t like to talk about it.
migrant camps men take them, but they don’t use them. The women
are very quiet, but they usually they’ll take them. Sometimes
they tell me they don’t need them.”
Myths and Challenges
belief that women, especially married women don’t need condemns
or to practice safe sex is a dangerous fallacy, said Ms. Parra
and Dr. NG. Most women, especially in Latino and African
American communities are infected by having unprotected sex with
National statistics confirm that men having sex with other men
are still by far the leading cause of becoming infected with
HIV/AIDS, according to the Center for Disease Control. That
statistic is true for Latino/Hispanic males who are
disproportionately more likely to become infected.
What makes the issue especially dangerous in the Latino
community is that Latinos, especially Latino males don’t get
tested, said Dr. NG. Of major
concern is that, of the 1.1 million individuals living with HIV
in the U.S., one in five doesn’t know they are infected.
There are several reasons for this including that 30 percent of
Latinos in the United States lack health insurance, so they
don’t seek healthcare right away.
The Latino Commission on AIDS, a national organization charged
with providing education and awareness programs throughout the
country, say other factors including homophobia, keeps people
from visiting their doctor or confiding in friends or family
when their sick.
Farmworkers, because of their transitory lifestyles often don’t
have a family doctor, so wait until their illness becomes so bad
they can’t put off going to a hospital or seeing a doctor. Other
Latinos don’t seek health care because of language barriers or
they fear deportation if they don’t have legal residency,
according to the New York-based Latino Commission on AIDS.
The result: CDC dates shows that Latinos progress to AIDS faster
than any other racial or ethnic group with 42 percent being
diagnosed with AIDS in 12 months after learning of their
positive HIV status.
“The good news is we’re testing more people than ever,” said Dr.
NG. “The bad news is we’re testing them in hospitals and clinics
when they already have full blown AIDS.”
That’s why self-esteem building activities are such a vital
component to outreach efforts in Toledo, Columbus and Cleveland.
“What we’ve found is that low-income people don’t feel like they
are on top of the heap,” said Mr. Kerr. “If they don’t feel
valued they often don’t take care of themselves.
Health officials are also alarmed about the growing apathy many
people now have about HIV/AIDS.
People have become less concerned because they hear doctors talk
about how they can live longer, healthier lives with drugs and
treatment; it gives people a false sense of security, said Mr.
Many people don’t realize that medication isn’t a cure, he said.
People with HIV/AIDS still suffer from bone loss, advanced
aging, liver failure, chronic heart problems and a weaker immune
system which makes them more prone to get sick.
Toledo resident Diana Saunders, 53, can attest to that.
Saunders, who discovered she was HIV positive 9 years ago when
she became so ill that just walking, became a daily challenge.
Ms. Saunders, who contracted the disease through unprotected
sex, often shares her story to help educate people.
By the time she was tested, she had become paralyzed from the
waist-down, which lasted for 7 months until medication helped
her regain some mobility. For years she had to take 18 pills
twice per day to slow down the deterioration of her body and
She’s now takes just one pill per day, but suffers from severe
pain all of the time. Pain medication can help ease the pain,
but the side effects accelerate the decline in overall health.
“My legs and back are always hurting, but I try to take it,”
said Ms. Saunders. “If I take any pain pills it costs me. I also
get sick a lot easier and cough a lot.
“But overall I’m blessed; without the doctors and God it could
be much worse.”