After years of decline, HIV rates are climbing in Miami-Dade County. With roughly 2,500 new diagnoses in 2013 alone, the county has the highest number of new infections in the nation.
Among the newly diagnosed, Latinx and Hispanic people are becoming infected at a disproportionate rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Stephen Fallon, executive director of Latinos Salud, an HIV clinic and community center for Latinos in and around South Florida, said the increasing number of HIV infections in Latinx and Hispanic communities is due in part to significant barriers to accessing resources.
“Things that many people in mainstream America would take for granted are real barriers for Latinos,” Fallon said.
He pointed out the following obstacles for the Latinx and Hispanic communities:
• Lack of knowledge about available resources such as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program
• Cultural influences such as religion and stigma
• Myths that HIV service providers will deport undocumented people seeking treatment
• Erroneously believing that an HIV-positive diagnosis will lead to deportation for first-generation citizens
• Unfamiliarity and discomfort with medical professionals
• A lack of stable housing
These obstacles exist largely because of language barriers, said Maria Mejia, a Miami-based HIV activist. Many in Miami’s Latinx and Hispanic communities speak little to no English and come from diverse cultural backgrounds, so messages about HIV and treatment options can get lost in translation. “A lot of these organizations have a lack of information … [about HIV] in Spanish,” she said.
Arianna Lint, a local activist who runs a community-based organization for trans Latinas, said that many service providers don’t understand the cultures of the communities they are serving and that many advertisements don’t connect with the target audience.
The following interactive map shows the percentage of those who are linguistically isolated, meaning those who do not speak or understand English. Most HIV service providers disseminate information in English.
Governmental service providers have not done enough to focus on the Latinx and Hispanic populations, said Christopher Bates, director of the HIV/AIDS Program for the Department of Health in Broward County.
“We have not done a great job at crafting messages that make people feel as if they are included in the conversation around access to care and treatment,” he said. “We craft liberal and generalized messages that go over the heads of many people.”
Recognizing the need for Latinx- and Hispanic-centric education and prevention campaigns, governmental and nongovernmental organizations such as Test Miami, the CDC and Act Against AIDS have tried to reach more Spanish-speaking people.
And activists such as Mejia and Lint have taken matters into their own hands, turning to social media and community organizing to get the message about HIV prevention and treatment out to Miami-Dade’s Hispanic and Latinx communities.
“I hit social media — I pound it,” Mejia said. “That’s how I educate the masses.”