The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
Every December 1, 2010, the world marks the 23rd commemoration of World AIDS Day. HIV/AIDS is a disease that affects millions of people around the world, from all races, ethnicities, nationalities, social classes, genders, and sexualities. As it relates to Asian Americans, the Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center points out the following important reminders, along with a short video:
In late September, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study estimating that 1 in 5 gay and bisexual men is currently HIV positive, and nearly half don’t know it (in 21 major cities). For A&PIs of all sexual orientations, including heterosexuals, 1 in 3 living with HIV don’t know it. Even worse, two-thirds of all Asians and over half of all Pacific Islanders have never been tested for HIV. Here are more key facts about HIV and A&PIs:
Between 2001 and 2004, Asian and Pacific Islander men had the largest percentage increase in new HIV infections, more than any other racial and ethnic group
Between 2001 and 2006, the number of new HIV infections among young gay and bisexual Asian and Pacific Islander men more than doubled
Which racial/ethnic group also has the highest increase in annual rate of new HIV infections?1 That’s right — Asians and Pacific Islanders. If this surprises you, you’re not alone. We don’t often hear the words “HIV” and “Asians and Pacific Islanders” spoken in the same breath. Maybe that’s one reason two — thirds of A&PIs have never been tested for HIV — the lack of information certainly makes it easy to assume A&PIs are unaffected by the disease. If you are A&PI, you are far less likely to get tested for HIV than your African — American or Latino peers. . . .
A&PIs aren’t prioritized as a population for HIV prevention because the number of A&PIs living with HIV/AIDS is considered “too low.” But if 1 in 3 A&PIs living with HIV don’t know it, and two — thirds have never been tested, is it any wonder rates appear “too low?” If you don’t know you’re at risk, why bother to get tested? Clearly, there are issues with under — reporting and under — testing; using the lack of data as a reason to deny resources to a community in need is circular logic. . . .
When A&PIs do get tested, it is often very late: A&PIs are the most likely to develop an AIDS diagnosis within 12 months of testing positive for HIV. A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is highly stigmatized, often leading to rejection by family, friends and the greater A&PI community. This stigma can be so brutal that many A&PIs living with HIV/AIDS abandon their families and friends and move to a different city or state to seek treatment. . . .
Tragedies like this highlight the importance of this year’s World AIDS Day theme: “Universal Access and Human Rights.” We need to do more to make sure that A&PIs have ways to access information and testing and increase awareness in the community so people living with HIV/AIDS can exercise their right to access care when and where they want. We cannot wait until HIV infections among A&PIs are too pervasive to ignore.
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.
Every December 1st, we commemorate World AIDS Day. HIV/AIDS is a disease that affects millions of people around the world, from all races, ethnicities, nationalities, social classes, genders, and sexualities.
The Banyan Tree Project (a national campaign to reduce HIV-related stigma in Asian & Pacific Islander communities) features high profile male-to-female transgender women and community activists. The PSA seeks to educate the community by openly discussing safe-sex and harm-reduction practices, particularly for transgender women and their primary partners. The silence in our communities is deadly; our PSA is one way to reach people and begin a dialogue.