State and local Leaders Call for Action on Alarming New Latino HIV/AIDS Trends
SACRAMENTO, California – (March 21, 2006) – With new data revealing surprising numbers of day laborers engaging in unsafe sex for money and a spiraling crystal meth crisis among Latino men, AIDS advocates today pressed state lawmakers to re-focus state HIV prevention efforts in response to disproportionate growth in new cases of HIV and AIDS among California's Latinos.
"We're calling on Sacramento to increase and re-deploy resources to fight new infection trends," said Oscar De La O, President and CEO of BIENESTAR, the state's largest Latino HIV/AIDS service organization. "Proven new strategies like innovative mobile units with rapid HIV tests need Sacramento's support if we're going to begin to break the chain of infection in our community," said De La O at a special legislative briefing in the state capitol supported by the California State Latino Legislative Caucus, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez and Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez.
"It's not common knowledge that Latinos now make up most of Los Angeles County's AIDS cases, or that a majority of Latinas with HIV have not engaged in risky behavior yet still end up being infected with HIV" said Assemblywoman Montañez, who sits on the Assembly Health Committee and represents the San Fernando Valley. She adds, "In addition to making sure Sacramento leads on the issue, we need to ensure Latino media and local leaders are speaking out and rallying our community to prevent more infections."
Today's hearing focused in part on two dramatic new studies: One on high-risk sexual behaviors of day laborers, and the other on increased risk created by crystal methamphetamine abuse among young Latino men. Dr. Frank Galvan, a research investigator with Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science who spoke at the briefing, said "Many day laborers are being approached for sex and a significant number are engaging in high risk behavior. We need to provide more HIV prevention education, especially to day laborers with lower education and those who are drug dependent."
Day laborers had not previously been regarded as a group at high risk for HIV, but a 2005 study conducted by Charles Drew University and Bienestar of 450 Latino immigrant day laborers found 38% reported they had been approached for sex, of which almost 10% participated in sexual activities. "About three-fourths of those engaging in sex reported unsafe practices," said Galvan, who noted that the study focused on six hiring sites in Los Angeles where websites indicated day laborers could be sought for sexual activity. "We went to those six day laborer sites, and asked if they had been approached for sex by another man in the context of their work as day laborers," said Galvan. He also reported that day laborers who were more likely to have sex tended to also experience drug dependency, have lower education levels, and had been day laborers for longer periods of time (five or more years).
The hearing also focused on surprisingly high levels of crystal methamphetamine use among newly diagnosed HIV-positive Latino men. Researcher Trista Bingham of Los Angeles County's HIV Epidemiology Program reported that "after adjusting for other traditional risk factors, newly diagnosed HIV-positive Latino men who have sex with men were almost 9 times more likely to report crystal use than men without HIV." The study, which included over 1500 participants of all race and ethnic groups over twelve months, found that crystal use was highest among Latinos (20%), and that crystal was associated with higher prevalence of unprotected anal intercourse and with newly diagnosed HIV. "To prevent new HIV infections among Latinos, a reduction in the use of crystal must be a central focus," said Bingham.
BIENESTAR is committed to enhancing the health and well-being of the Latino community and other underserved communities. BIENESTAR accomplishes this through community education, prevention, mobilization, advocacy, and the provision of direct social support services.