A Rapidly Growing Trend
Much progress has been made in the fight against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) but there is still an urgent need to educate people at high risk. Recent data shows that Black and Latino males are most at risk of contracting the virus. For instance, in 2020, about 68% of new HIV infections in the US were among gay and bisexual men. Furthermore, 69% of these cases accounted for Black and Latino Americans.
Age matters too
Race and sex aren’t the only concerns. People aged 13-24 are largely affected by HIV and account for 1 in 4 of all new HIV diagnoses. Among this figure, young African American gay and bisexual men represent 53%. Second on the list is young Latino men. Filtered down to states like Texas, young Black and Latino men make up almost 60% of people living with HIV (PLWH).
Why are you at risk?
The reasons for these high numbers are social, psychological, and economical. However, poor awareness is one of the biggest factors. These young men feel that the risk does not apply and fail to stay current or get tested. Black and Latino men are unaware that HIV disproportionately affects gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM). Many also do not know that viral loads are often undetectable at a young age. This increases the risk of contracting other severe diseases. Even with significant federal program investment, HIV rates in these groups have increased. HIV education and information on safe sex practices must begin at a young age. Yet, low resources in schools and homes raise the risk of infection for Black and Latino men.
Minority groups and healthcare
There is still limited healthcare infrastructure in some communities of color. There may be unequal resources for HIV testing, safe sex, and long-term treatment. A lack of antiretroviral therapy (ART), for instance, can expose HIV-positive men to those without the virus. Others are unaware or cannot afford pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that can help prevent HIV. PrEP forms an essential part of treatment as prevention (TasP). Proactive treatment helps at-risk groups to say safe. Without these resources, staying virus-free becomes much more challenging.
Using resources effectively
But what about those communities with resources? ART and PrEP can be costly, making long-term treatment unattainable for low-income groups. However, some Black and Latino groups have access to subsidized medication, yet the resources are not used well. Misconceptions about drugs, HIV stigma, and misinformation on how HIV affects these communities lead to poor resource use. By not using what’s available, the risk of HIV increases significantly.
Stigma and discrimination
HIV stigma and discrimination continue to be one of the biggest challenges to ending the epidemic. PLWH is increasing not only because of a lack of resources. ART is also more effective and people on these therapies live longer. Consistent treatment means PLWH can have long lives. Some even have healthy mixed-status relationships. However, the general public is still unaware of the strides made in treatment. Therefore, an old belief in an evolving situation still exists. Cultural norms mean stigma is especially challenging in Black and Latino communities. A lack of open conversation, shame, and guilt prevent young men from seeking guidance. Many cannot have healthy same-sex relationships. Include ongoing issues like homophobia and transphobia, and HIV risk increases significantly.
The power of youth
Teenage and young men tend to explore sexuality, and the process can feel fun and liberating. However, the right awareness can help this group do so in a safe, healthy way. Black and Latino men should feel proud practicing safe sex, getting tested, and using prevention methods. More importantly, HIV- and HIV+ people can use platforms like social media to share information peer-to-peer information with loved ones and the community. Don’t hesitate to look for online and in-person programs to help get educated and tested. There are also initiatives to reduce stigma and even syringe services programs to help prevent HIV among people who inject drugs (PWID). While there is much to do in serving minority groups, new infection rates are decreasing among people aged 13-24. That means young people understand the assignment and get involved to reduce the risk.