By Cyril Ubiem, PhD, Director of Infectious Disease and Special Populations
During this period of HIV awareness among Latinos, Whittier Street Health Center joins the rest of the country by bringing awareness to the greater Boston community about the impact of HIV in the Latino community. The October 15th observance serves to heighten awareness around the disproportionate burden of HIV among Latinos.
What is HIV?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV is a virus spread through bodily fluids including unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated blood transfusions, and from mother to child. HIV attacks the body’s CD4 cells (T cells) leaving the immune system severely compromised. Unable to fight off infections and other diseases, opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system. Over time the infected person will eventually develop auto immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
HIV among the Latinos in the United States (U.S.)
In 2010 new HIV incidences among Latinos were 3 times as high as that of whites (27.5 vs 8.7 per 100,000 people). In 2013 the CDC reports Latinos accounted for 21% of all new HIV diagnoses although they represent only 17% of the U.S. population. The number of new HIV incidences is alarming for Latino men. The CDC estimated in 2010 that Latino men accounted for 87% of all new HIV infection among Latinos attributing 79% to male-to male sexual contact. Young Latino MSM (men having sex with men) under the age of 35 accounted for 67% of the estimated new HIV infections. Latino women accounted for 14% as of 2010 in the United States.
HIV among the Latinos in Massachusetts
HIV/AIDS among Latinos living in the U.S. and Massachusetts is not declining. Between 2012-2014 Latino men and women accounted for 24% and 27% respectively of people living with HIV in Massachusetts as reported by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The report also indicated that 56% reported male-to-male exposure and an additional 9% reported combined MSM/IDU exposure.
Programs at Whittier Street Health Center / Treatment
Whittier has a comprehensive infectious disease program that addresses HIV at every stage of the HIV continuum among all populations, ethnicity and all ages. Our trained community health workers canvas high-risk locations, offering HIV counseling and testing, free condoms, and referral/ linkage to comprehensive care. Our Ryan White program works closely with individuals living with HIV to improve treatment adherence. Patients are met with a team including a high-risk nurse and prescribing provider to ensure that the psychosocial needs are addressed. Additionally, Whittier’s team of doctors includes an infectious disease specialist who handles complex cases. Peer support groups meet weekly and are well attended bringing together a mixed group participants.
Whittier also has other HIV prevention programs like Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) for those individuals at very high risk for HIV transmission. When taken as prescribed PrEP is a daily medication that lowers one’s chance for infection. A combination of two HIV medicines delivered in a single tablet called Truvada®, is approved for daily intake to prevent an HIV-negative person from contracting HIV from a sexual or injection-drug-using partner who is HIV positive. We also have case managers who navigate clients through services including getting medications.
The Whittier Infectious Disease and Special Populations Department is available to answer any question and can be reach through the hotline: Tel: 617 308-0060: Monday – Friday from 8:30am -5pm.