Little Visibility or Help for Aging Latinos With HIV


Health Care Worker and Elderly ManIn the words of ACT UP’s Gran Fury, “Women don’t get AIDS, they just die from it.”

But women weren’t the only ones left behind to fend for themselves during the AIDS and HIV epidemic. On Wednesday, July 5, the Hispanic Health Network and the Latino Commission on AIDS released a report examining the lengthy challenges of the older Latinx community living with HIV.

The report, entitled “Olvidados,” or “Forgotten Ones,” studies the factors that make the Latinx community in the United States more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than those who are non-Latinx. The factors include studies on access to quality health care, language barriers, and sexual orientation.

The report assessed these factors in Hispanics and Latinx over 50 in New York City, San Antonio, Houston, Miami, and multiple Puerto Rican cities where HIV rates are high.

“We selected people who are often forgotten in research,” said Dr. David Garcia to NBC Latino. Dr. Garcia is the Director of Research and Evaluation for the Latino Commission. “We started a literature review on what has been done with Latinos who are getting older with HIV, and there wasn’t a lot. They also excluded individuals that primarily speak Spanish.”

The report notes a significant disparity between those who are aging with HIV that are non-Latinx and those that are. In the United States, 18% of older Latinx live below the poverty line with nine out of 10 of those in the 157-person study having annual incomes of $20,000 or below. Only 4% of participants reported being fully-employed.

The report also shows that 25% of adult Latinx had no health insurance as of 2016 whereas white, non-Latinx adults lacked health insurance in only 9% of the population. Additionally, between 2013 and 2014, the National Hispanic Council of Aging found that those in the Latinx community were less likely to have a medical care provider than either white, non-Latinx and African-Americans.

“They’re more concerned with housing and a job,” said Dr. Garcia of those aging with HIV. “It can be difficult to prioritize their health.”

According to the report, it’s housing instability and financial insecurity that are the major causes of the aging Latinx community’s vulnerability to illness. The report says that it’s this lack of stability that causes a delay in medical treatment for HIV. Compared to those with secure housing, those with unstable housing were less likely to remain on and receive antiretroviral therapy.

However, the report’s discovery of the factors linked to the vulnerability of older Latinx with HIV/AIDS isn’t the only significant finding. “The mental health aspect was huge for us,” said Dr. Garcia. The mental health aspect refers to the discovery that those aging with HIV/AIDS in the Latinx community were found to exhibit high rates of anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.

“This is something that is often altogether ignored for all individuals,” Dr. Garcia said.”If we’re living in isolation or suffering from depression, accessing services is a good thing. We really need to work to demystify that stigma.”

Dr. Garcia noted not only the stigma that exists in many Latinx cultures regarding seeking psychological help, but also the barriers that exist in the field of health care.

“There sometimes weren’t any healthcare providers who could do the service in Spanish,” Dr. Garcia said. And the number of those providers could decrease even more according to projections by the Association of American Medical Colleges. By 2020, the number of physicians is said to decline by 90,000, and by 2025 it will decline by 130,000.

Yet Dr. Garcia remains optimistic. With the report opening new doors of social discussion, targeted change and specific remedies can be found in order to advance and benefit the Latinx community, for the old and the young.

“They were able to share their life with us,” said Dr. Garcia. “Everyone who took the survey also participated in the focus group, and that’s when we were able to disentangle this issue and give it rich context.

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