US Latinos struggle with HIV stigma

Published: December 9, 2013

Chicago, United States – Maria Mejia grew up in an abusive household, so at the age of 13 she ran away from home and joined a gang in search of a sense of family. Soon after, she began dating the leader of the gang, a drug user, who infected her with HIV.

Mejia estimates she was infected between 1988 or 1989, when she was about 15 or 16 years old. She says she was diagnosed by sheer coincidence. Tired of the gang life, she decided to move back home and then joined the Job Corps in Kentucky, which required routine medical tests. A week before her 18th birthday, a doctor incorrectly informed that she had AIDS when she was, in fact, HIV-positive.
Distraught and confused, Mejia says she moved back home to Miami to die. Her mother, whom she describes as an "ultraconservative Catholic Latina", told her, "We’re going to put this in God’s hands", and asked her not to tell anyone in the family. Even though her mother’s shame was hurtful, Mejia said she was only trying to protect her.
In 2000, Hispanics became the largest minority group in the US, and they currently account for 16 percent of the population. 
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Hispanics account for an estimated 19 percent of people living with HIV (220,400 persons) and an estimated 21 percent of new infections (9,800) in the United States each year. About one in 50 Hispanics will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime. 
The rate of new HIV infections among Hispanic men is almost three times higher than that among white men, and the rate of new HIV infections among Hispanic women is more than four times that of Caucasian women.
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