May 19 is National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and World Hepatitis Day. This blog post is one of a series on the impact of HIV and Hepatitis B in Asian & Pacific Islander communities. As A&PIs, you may not believe that you are at risk for these diseases, but you are. Follow our posts throughout the week for different perspectives and stories from our community.
May 19 is the 6th annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, marked by community events throughout the US and Pacific Island Jurisdictions. Even in this sixth year, much must still be done to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS in our collective Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) communities. We often hear that HIV most affects Blacks, Latinos and gay men—that HIV isn't our disease or our problem. This couldn't be further from the truth.
The most recent data shows A&PI men and women have the highest percentage annual increase in new HIV infections, higher than any other racial or ethnic group. HIV infection rates among A&PI youth are also on the rise. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of new HIV diagnoses among young A&PI gay men more than doubled.
There are over 13 million of us living in the U.S., and our community is growing. But when you look deeper, we are not all the same. “Asians & Pacific Islanders” are not a monolithic culture—collectively we represent 49 distinct ethnic groups speaking over 100 different languages and dialects. This diversity gives us strength, but it also makes it hard to communicate health risk and the need to get tested for HIV. Most prevention education materials are only available in English and Spanish, and limited HIV funding almost makes it impossible to translate materials into A&PI languages.
Very few health providers are culturally and linguistically prepared to adequately serve the needs of the A&PI community. Even when we ask to get tested, sometimes we're turned away. As a group, A&PIs are perceived as "low risk" for HIV infection and health providers often tell us HIV tests aren’t “necessary” (especially if you’re an A&PI woman). Our collective silence as a community doesn't make it easy to get tested either. Silence and shame about sex and HIV, and the real and perceived repercussions of testing positive (such as being rejected by your family and friends) also make getting tested hard for us.
Because of these attitudes, A&PIs have the lowest testing rates among any racial or ethnic group—two-thirds of us have never been tested for HIV and close to 9 million A&PIs don't know their HIV status. Even more alarming is the fact that 1 in 3 of us living with HIV don't know it. That could be your best friend, a family member, or even YOU.
This May 19, we're asking everyone in the community to start talking about HIV. Ask your family and friends to get tested. Learn how to stay safe. Share our series of blog posts with your friends and on your Facebook or Twitter pages. And above all, end the stigma, silence and shame surrounding HIV.
To learn more about May 19, National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, facts about HIV in our community, and events happening nationwide, visit http://www.banyantreeproject.org/.