HIV Increase In Arizona Disproportionately Affecting Black And Latino Communities

Jamiesfeast – According to a report released by the state health department in December, HIV transmissions in Arizona have seen a significant increase, contrary to the national trend of declining virus rates in most parts of the country. Although there is consensus among experts working in the field that more work needs to be done on the ground, advocates and health providers attribute a significant role to the state’s sex education curriculum in contributing to this alarming trend.

In 2020, there was a significant rise in overall transmission rates, with a 20% increase from the previous year. This increase had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities. While the majority of new HIV diagnoses were among men who have sex with other men, the data from the state department also revealed an increase in cases among Black and Hispanic women. This is particularly noteworthy as these women have traditionally been considered less at risk for the virus.

According to Craig Crabtree, an HIV care continuum manager for Maricopa County at Valleywise Health, improving education on sexual health is crucial for making significant progress in reducing HIV transmissions. Additionally, both governments and healthcare providers should have a thorough understanding of available treatments that can effectively suppress HIV in patients, leading to undetectable levels of the virus and making transmission nearly impossible.

According to Crabtree, the rates of HIV infection are continuously increasing. He emphasized that Phoenix is among the 33 areas in North America that have been designated as Fast Track Cities. This global initiative, overseen by the United Nations, aims to reduce the spread of HIV through direct funding at the city level.

Phoenix has been part of the program since 2016, but the state has recently seen an increase in transmissions. This is a notable change from previous years when there were fewer cases.

In the 2022 state health department report, it was found that Pinal, Apache, and Santa Cruz counties experienced the highest rates of new HIV cases. Following closely behind were Maricopa and Pima counties.

HIV experts interviewed by LOOKOUT suggest that Arizona’s legislature, which is controlled by Republicans in both the House and Senate, shares some of the responsibility for the current situation. State laws have imposed limitations on the teaching of comprehensive sex education, leaving teachers obligated to provide an abstinence-only curriculum if school districts and parents choose to opt-in.

The Numbers

According to the latest report from the Arizona Department of Health Services, published in 2023, there has been a significant increase in the transmission rates of HIV and AIDS among the Latino and Black communities in the state. In the previous year, these communities experienced higher rates of transmission compared to their respective population levels, which stand at 32% for Latinos and 4% for Blacks.

Arizona’s Black population, despite being the smallest in size, experienced higher transmission rates compared to other groups. According to the report, there was a 31% increase in transmission rates for this population in 2021. Furthermore, the rates increased by over 15% the previous year.

Arizona’s Hispanic population has seen a significant increase in HIV transmission rates, exceeding 10% within the same time frame. Since 1988, this population has witnessed a staggering 181% rise in new HIV transmissions. In contrast, White populations experienced a notable decrease of 59% during this period, as reported by the AZDHS.

According to Eddie Moreira-Orantes, the HIV prevention manager at the Arizona Department of Health Services, this data sheds light on the areas that require the most outreach and education.

According to the speaker, in 2021, it was observed that the Black and African American community comprised approximately 16% of incidents, despite making up only around 5% of Arizona’s population. This highlights the disproportionate impact these incidents have on this community.

According to data available on America’s HIV Epidemic Analysis Dashboard, the local HIV trends are moving in the opposite direction compared to the national trends. While HIV transmissions in the country have decreased by 4% between 2020 and 2021, the local HIV rates are not following the same pattern.

Reducing HIV in marginalized communities has proven to be a challenging task for organizations. While the focus has primarily been on providing testing and preventative medicine, accessing economically disadvantaged areas has been a significant obstacle. However, local health experts emphasize that the cultural stigma surrounding HIV is an even more influential factor in its spread. This highlights the urgent need for educational initiatives to address this issue effectively.

A “Huge Eye-Opener”

Cynthia Estrada, a social worker at Chicanos por la Causa, openly expresses her concerns about the rising number of HIV infections in the state. She believes that the lack of comprehensive prevention efforts, cultural stigma, and inadequate education contribute to the fact that nearly half of the new HIV cases in Arizona occur among Latino individuals.

“It’s truly an eye-opening experience, not only for our organization but for the entire state,” she expressed. “To me, this revelation goes beyond the stigma associated with it; it’s also a result of limited awareness and inadequate education.”

Estrada has noticed the presence of commercials promoting preventative medicine, a development she greatly approves of. However, she has yet to come across any commercials in Spanish, and this has left her puzzled.

She wondered why the rates were not being accompanied by more Spanish advertisements.

Schools play a significant role in contributing to the spread of the virus among younger individuals, according to her observations.

“I’ve noticed that even 18 and 19-year-olds are receiving diagnoses,” she remarked. “It’s crucial that we prioritize education within the school systems and ensure that young individuals have access to this information. It’s a collective effort that requires us to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health and promote awareness.”

Tracy Pedrotti, an adolescent health program supervisor with Affirm, concurs that reproductive health and sex education play crucial roles in promoting overall well-being. Unfortunately, in Arizona, young students are not receiving comprehensive and accurate information about sexual health and the associated risks.

According to the speaker, the belief that an abstinence policy can effectively prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases is flawed. Instead, she argues that education and access to healthcare are crucial in empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their sexual health. The lack of access to comprehensive education in the state is reflected in the concerning statistics. She emphasizes that sexual health is an integral part of overall well-being and should not be considered a taboo topic for young people.

Connecting at a community level

Health providers emphasize the importance of increasing outreach and providing more information on preventative treatments like PrEP or PEP, in addition to comprehensive sex education.

PrEP, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a prescription regimen highly acclaimed for its effectiveness in preventing HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is considered a reliable method of protection. On the other hand, PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is recommended for individuals who may have been exposed to HIV. Both PrEP and PEP have been available for over a decade, and when taken correctly, they can significantly reduce the risk of transmission by more than 99%.

The primary drugs used for the PrEP regimen are Descovy and Truvada, which consist of components from other HIV treatment medications that have been in use since the 1990s. In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Apretude, an injectable form of PrEP. This medication is administered by a doctor once every other month.

However, many people who could benefit from these medications, as well as those who have the authority to prescribe them, are not well-informed about their effectiveness and accessibility.

Andrew Rascon, the outreach and community engagement manager for the Southwest Center, has been adopting a more lighthearted approach to PrEP education during festivals. He playfully asks attendees if they are currently living in their “PrEP era,” drawing inspiration from Taylor Swift.

Although many people easily recognize the pop culture reference, they often overlook its connection to HIV prevention.

According to Rascon, many communities are not yet prepared to engage in these discussions. Therefore, the approach is to meet them at their current level of understanding in order to avoid overwhelming them. There are still many individuals who are unaware of PrEP and its benefits. In fact, some individuals are completely unaware that such preventive measures even exist.

Hedda Fay, the community outreach manager for Northland Cares, keeps a stock of medications in case any of her clients in Yavapai County require them. According to her, she feels obliged to do so.

Fay explained that accessing the necessary medication is a challenge in rural communities, as local pharmacies often do not stock it and may dismiss the need for it in these areas. She emphasized that some individuals wrongly perceive substance abuse as a problem exclusive to urban areas, failing to acknowledge its presence in rural communities.

Mistrust of the medical community remains a significant barrier for certain ethnic and racial populations, including Black, brown, and indigenous communities, according to Fay. Addressing the sensitivities of these groups necessitates a thoughtful and nuanced approach.

“We have ample resources available to make HIV a manageable condition,” she emphasized. “However, unless individuals are aware of these resources, lives will continue to be lost.”

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