May 18, 2007

AIDS: biggest health problem among Latinos

By Shertease Wheeler
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON - Latinos make up 14 percent of the total U.S. population, but they make up almost 25 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases, a group of Latino leaders said Wednesday. The community must overcome the stigma associated with seeking treatment before that number will change, they said.

The discussion took place at the Latino Leaders Issue Hour held at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

Panelists said the Latino community is overlooked in the fight against HIV/AIDS because the medical community is focused on the large number of cases in the black community. The same is true for such other Latino health concerns as diabetes and mental illnesses, which need more research.

Dennis L. deLeon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS, and a panel member, criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Nobody pays any attention, and we’ve fallen off the CDC’s map,” deLeon said. “They don’t pay attention to us at all.”

The rate of diabetes is on the rise among Latinos. Liany Elba Arroyo, director of the Institute for Hispanic Health at the National Council of La Raza, said that approximately 10 percent of Latinos over age 20 have diabetes, but because of lack of research on the Hispanic population, the number may be much higher.

According to the American Diabetes Association Web site, 7 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes.

Arroyo said the cause of this growing problem is obesity and lack of education about proper diet and health.

“Mexican American men have the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity compared to other racial and ethnic groups,” Arroyo said, adding that young people aren’t far behind.

“More and more of our youth are being diagnosed with diabetes,” Arroyo said. “It’s actually diabetes that developed because of complications of obesity.”

Majose Carrasco, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Multicultural Action Center, led the discussion on mental illness in the Latino community. Carrasco said Latino men have extremely high rates of depression and a growing number of young people admit to thinking about suicide.

Carrasco said that not enough people seek help for depression and anxiety and that may be attributed to the stigma among Latinos to seeking help for mental illness.

“For many years, it’s become a silent crisis in our community,” Carrasco said. “It’s a lot of stigma attached to this illness; it’s a lot of fear that prevents our community to seek and find help.”

The panel also discussed the need for better service to Latinos in hospitals and other medical facilities to make them feel comfortable in seeking help.

The group concluded that the three health concerns had something in common - a lack of education in the community and the stigma attached to the diagnosis and seeking help for it.

“Diagnosis and stigma go hand in hand,” deLeon said.

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