When people do something with a lot of passion, only good things happen. This was the case for many Latinos who wanted an organization that could empower their community and at the same time promote advocacy, organization, and innovation for Latinos with HIV. In 1990, the Latino Commission on AIDS was established and since then, they’ve been working to educate and to bring awareness about HIV and AIDS to all of those affected by the disease.
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For 25 years, they have addressed the urgent need to develop a comprehensive response, not only for Latinos, but all communities affected by HIV and AIDS. They are responsible for the Latino AIDS Awareness Day, which takes place on October 15th, on the last day of Hispanic Heritage month to remind us to promote awareness and access to care to those that need it. They also work diligently to encourage people to get tested on National HIV Testing Day, which is June 27.
“The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there are 220,000 Hispanics that have been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, and even though we are 17% of the U.S. population, we represent 21% of new HIV infections,” explains Guillermo Chacon, President of the Latino Commission on AIDS. One of the most difficult things with HIV is the stigma associated with the epidemic and the level of homophobia, trans-phobia, and AIDS phobia that they face as a community.
“Hispanics and Latinos are labeled by the CDC as late testers for HIV and that means that they are receiving positive AIDS diagnosis less than 12 months after, which means that they were living with HIV for a long time and didn’t know,” he says.
“Unfortunately its almost impossible to reverse the damage after you’ve received an AIDS diagnosis because your immune system that HIV destroyed is too damaged and almost impossible to rebuild,” explains Chacon. This is why it’s urgent for people to get tested as soon as possible. If you recently contracted HIV, the amount of the virus in your body could be so tiny that you’re going to get the medications you need to live a longer, healthier, and more productive life. Plus you lessen the risk of spreading HIV and developing AIDS quicker.
“One of the biggest challenges that we face as a community is that the Health State Department doesn’t know Hispanics and Latinos very well because Hispanics is one term and behind it hides a whole other constellation of identities and norms,” he explains. There are many of us, but there is a big difference between Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans, and so on. “If you don’t know whom you’re dealing with in your city, county, and state, then you might be missing the needs that we have and need as a community,” he adds.
Chacon has been with the Latino Commission on AIDS for 21 years and he’s seen the company grow and the success of various campaigns targeting various groups of Hispanics and Latinos. Even though they’re a small organization, they’ve launched huge campaigns in 44 states and territories for Latinos/Hispanics with HIV and hepatitis. They even have a satellite office in North Carolina where they cover all the states between Texas and Florida, promoting a very tailored approach state-by-state to promote unique initiatives.
“This year we’re celebrating 25 years and it’s a very difficult celebration because we need to remember all of those people and all of those Hispanics and Latinos and all of the folks in the U.S. that passed away because of HIV and AIDS,” says Chacon. Just in New York, where their central office is located, they’ve lost 100,000 people. In honor of their 25th anniversary they celebrated with a gala and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide plan to end AIDS by 2020. “That’s the best tribute and gift to the Commission in recognition of 25 years of very important work, there’s no better way to celebrate than having the tremendous support from so many people,” says Chacon. To learn more about the Latino Commission on AIDS, visit www.LatinoAIDS.org.