Los Angeles County health and community leaders are calling for renewed efforts at testing and educating minorities about AIDS, noting that Latinos and blacks in the county with HIV tend to learn of their infection too late to get the maximum benefit from drug therapies.
Seventy-two percent of Latinos find out they are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus less than one year before they become sick with full-blown AIDS, and among blacks the rate is 53%, according to Amy Rock Wohl, a researcher at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The figures are based on data collected between 2000 and 2004.
Among whites, only about one in three learn of their HIV infection at such a late stage, according to the data, which were presented Tuesday in West Hollywood at a news conference by the Latino Coalition Against AIDS.
“Seventy-two percent is way too high,” Luis Lopez, HIV policy director for a nonprofit health clinic in Los Angeles, said at the news conference.
In 2004, nearly half of new AIDS diagnoses in Los Angeles County involved Latinos, according to county statistics.
African American leaders also are concerned. On Friday, World AIDS Day, the Magic Johnson Foundation will launch a nationwide campaign in Los Angeles to “end Black HIV/AIDS,” setting an initial goal of halving the infection rate by 2011.
“It’s a primary issue here at home that needs to be addressed now,” said Ilke Arici, a spokeswoman for Abbott Laboratories, which is co-sponsoring the event.
The launch will feature free testing at various locations Friday, Saturday and Sunday. More information is available at istandwithmagic.com.
Some HIV and AIDS advocates said the traditional ways of reaching at-risk people, historically focused on white gay men, was not working for minorities.
One problem is that the stigma of HIV/AIDS persists strongly among some blacks and Latinos, and that minority men who have sex with men may be less likely to identify themselves as gay or bisexual, Lopez said.
“A lot of Latinos don’t want to identify as being gay for fear of stigma,” Lopez said. “You may have gay men, for instance, that are in largely nongay environments -- the Eastside or elsewhere -- that come here for recreational purposes -- here in West Hollywood -- but don’t otherwise identify as gay to friends or family. I think that sense of denial and stigma contributes to high-risk behavior and delayed testing.”
Latino men may focus more on their ethnic heritage than on a particular sexual orientation, Lopez said.
He said culturally appropriate and Spanish-language campaigns need to be launched to reach Latinos who otherwise might test late. They should stress that treatment not only is available for those with HIV but it also is effective, he said.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who attended the West Hollywood news conference, said there should be routine testing for HIV, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested in September.
Nationwide, blacks account for 50% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses, even though they make up just 12% of the population, according to the CDC. Latinos are 14% of the population but make up 20% of new cases.