May 19, 2010
Written by C.N.
Several years ago, I worked as Director of Education for the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS (APICHA) in New York City. I oversaw our organization’s community outreach programs to educate the Asian American community in New York about HIV/AIDS. It was challenging but rewarding work and was one way for me to apply my academic knowledge and training to make a contribution to my community.
Along the same lines, today is the sixth annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. To continue the efforts to educate Asian Americans about HIV/AIDS, the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco is the lead organization for the Banyan Tree Project, a national HIV/AIDS anti-stigma social marketing campaign targeting Asians & Pacific Islanders (A&PIs), funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Banyan Tree Project raises awareness about sexual health in A&PI communities by addressing the silence and shame surrounding HIV. For this year’s Awareness Day event, they’ve created the following public service announcement that airs nationally on television stations across the country, along with the following summary:
On May 19th, Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) communities across the U.S. and Pacific Island Jurisdictions will gather at over 25 events to acknowledge the impact of HIV on A&PIs, an often overlooked population at increasing risk for HIV. May 19th, 2010 marks the 6th annual observance of National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
At the events, the Banyan Tree Project will premiere a new social marketing campaign and public service announcement, “Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV.” Saving face is a common cultural concept for many A&PIs, where the individual seeks to protect the family or community from shame or public disgrace. In practice, “saving face” can prevent people from talking about sexual health or HIV, leading to low HIV testing rates, misconceptions about HIV transmission, a lack of knowledge about safer sex practices and ultimately, increased HIV risk. The Banyan Tree Project urges A&PIs to have the courage to talk about HIV in order to create healthy A&PI communities.
The threat of HIV/AIDS continues to grow in the U.S., particularly in communities of color who collectively represent 70% of the national epidemic. The impact of the disease among A&PIs is alarming, though less-publicized than that of Blacks and Latinos. The most recent data shows A&PI men and women have the highest percentage annual increase in new HIV infections, higher than any other racial or ethnic group. Similarly, HIV infection rates among A&PI youth are on the rise. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of HIV diagnoses among young A&PI gay men more than doubled. Despite this, over two thirds of A&PIs have never been tested for HIV.
In addition to cultural barriers to HIV prevention education such as “saving face,” there are other unique challenges in reaching the diverse community of more than 13 million A&PIs in the U.S., making up a population of over 49 distinct ethnic groups speaking more than 100 languages and dialects. The need for culturally and linguistically competent health information and providers is great, yet HIV prevention information is available mostly in English and Spanish. This, coupled with the common misconception that A&PIs are at “low risk” for HIV, makes it difficult to communicate HIV risk to many A&PIs. Clearly, HIV stigma affects the A&PI community—where high-risk behavior is often kept under wraps, even between peers—posing significant barriers to HIV testing and timely access to care for many A&PIs.
The federally endorsed Awareness Day events are coordinated by the Banyan Tree Project, a national partnership led by Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco. The Banyan Tree Project aims to increase HIV awareness and access to life-saving services for A&PIs by offering HIV testing, educating the community and reducing HIV stigma. To find an event in your area, please visit banyantreeproject.org. Join the conversation and talk about HIV.
The Banyan Tree Project also has several fact sheets available for download as well. Please take a few minutes to watch the video, read the fact sheets, and pass the word along to your friends and family.