Stories and photos by ANA RAMIREZ
The HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to have a devastating impact on the Latino community in the United States.
That reality hits home for residents of Pima County, where one of four people living with HIV/AIDS are Latino, according to the Pima County Health Department.
Hispanics/Latinos represent 13 percent of the United States population but account for an estimated 17 percent of new HIV infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 report.
A 2006 CDC study concluded Latinos are prone to being at risk for HIV infection because they face challenges such as language barriers, cultural values that don’t acknowledge the dangers of high-risk behaviors and long-term separation from a sexual partner leading to new partners.
Key information from the CDC:
- HIV is contracted through sexual contact, including oral, vaginal and anal sex. The virus is passed through bodily fluids such as semen, blood and vaginal fluid. Semen and blood are the most common way people are exposed to the virus.
- The virus can also be passed from mother to child through breast milk.
- People who are most at risk are injection drug users, people who engage in unprotected sex and infants who have mothers that are HIV positive.
- There is no cure for HIV. The only way to prevent it is to practice safe sex, including abstinence, condom use and being educated about one’s health.
- Clinical trials of a new HIV prevention pill called Truvada found it reduced the risk of contraction by 44 percent. However, the trial only included gay and bisexual men.
- People diagnosed with the virus can live a long, healthy life if they receive proper medication.
To find out more information about HIV and AIDS, contact any of the following organizations:
Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation
The mission of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation is to create and sustain a healthier, more compassionate response to HIV/AIDS.
National AIDS Hotline
Centers for Disease Control
TTY Spanish: 1-800-344-7432
For STD testing:
El Rio Same Day Clinic
Theresa Lee Clinic
332 S. Freeway (southbound I-10 frontage road)
Busy student makes time to teach peers
By ANA RAMIREZ
Like most high school seniors, Elizabeth Molina is anxious to graduate. The pre-med student keeps a busy schedule with classes at Sunnyside High School, Pima Community College and the University of Arizona, but still manages help her community and peers.
Molina, 18, has taught a HIV/AIDS Prevention class at Sunnyside for the past few semesters. She became interested in the subject after a family member was fatally diagnosed with the virus.
“I’m amazed, actually, by how little people know,” Molina said.
The class covers teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Molina’s goal for students: “For them to understand how to protect themselves.”
The class covers seven modules, teaching about all of the sexually transmitted diseases, how they are transmitted, what the symptoms are and how to practice safe sex.
The students take a test at the beginning and end of the class to see how knowledgeable they have become.
HIV/AIDS epidemic has hit Latinos hard. In Pima County, one of four people living with HIV/AIDS are Latino, according to the Pima County Health Department.
Why does Molina think the Latino community has been so affected?
She points to Latino women taking a traditional route, worrying about having children and making a family than about safe-sex practices.
“Latinos come from a religious background, so we tend to forget what we’re preventing ourselves from,” she said.
For her career, Molina would like to be either a cardiothoracic or cosmetic surgeon. If she chooses the second route, she would like to join the Doctors Without Borders organization.
Ex-soldier offers message of hope
By ANA RAMIREZ
Enrique Franco, a former sergeant in the U.S. Army, tries to make a difference in his community by speaking at events such as the recent Tucson National Latino Awareness Day.
“I want to generate a message of hope,” he said.
The Army discharged Franco on homosexual conduct charges in 2007 after he admitted he is gay. He underwent a medical exam as part of the exit procedure, and later received test results that revealed he was HIV-positive.
Franco contracted the virus from another soldier that he trusted and was infatuated with. “I hate to sound like a commercial but I always used protection,” he said. “This was the one guy I didn’t use it with.”
Franco started a blog, www.thebody.com. The site has posted an interview in which he shares his experiences.
Army officials acted more compassionately once they learned he was HIV-positive, Franco said. “Their attitudes shifted.”
He pays close attention to people’s reaction when they learn he is HIV-positive. “I can see people have a shift in their body language, a certain twitch in their eye” he said. “I tell them from the get-go. I want to know if people are going to be my friends.”
Franco now works at the University of Arizona’s gym and is happily married. He and his partner exchanged vows in California a few weeks before Proposition 22 was enacted to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.
He shares his message of hope at every opportunity.
“Don’t let anyone steal your hope from you,” he said. “Embrace your life.”