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President acknowledged HIV/AIDS issue in the Asian community

President acknowledged HIV/AIDS issue in the Asian community

Picture of Rong  Xiaoqing

Last May was a big month for the Asian community. It was Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but was also the National Hepatitis B Awareness Month.

The prevalence of hepatitis B among Asians Americans is stunningly high-15% compared to 0.5% for average Americans. So there were many educational workshops and screenings offered by various organizations and institutions in the community through the month.

The high infection rate unnerved not only people in the hepatitis B prevention field but also those in the HIV/AIDS prevention field because the two kinds of viruses transmit in very similar ways including unprotected sex, blood transfusions and mother-to-infant. But compared to hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS prevention is a much tougher job mainly due to the lack of awareness in both the community and the outside world.

When my story about the HIV/AIDS problem in the Asian community, which was supported by the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, was published on Dec. 1, 2009, the issue had little spotlight. Despite the quickly increasing number of newly diagnosed cases, the government officials whom I interviewed all pointed out the low overall number of infection cases. Patients I interviewed didn't want to disclose their names in fear of being discriminated against by a community that considers AIDS a "dirty" disease. And prevention service organizations fought against the tide with little resources.

But this has also started to change in this magic month of May, in part thanks to President Obama. In his proclamation for Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the President addressed both the socio-economic and health disparities in the communities. "Many Asian American and Pacific Islander families experience unemployment and poverty, as well as significant education and health disparities. They are at high risk for diabetes and hepatitis, and the number of diagnoses for HIV/AIDS has increased in recent years," said the President in his speech.

Meanwhile, the White House Office of Minority Health also stated in an official document that "the number of HIV/AIDS cases among AAPIs may be higher than reported because of underreporting or misclassification of Asian Americans and other Pacific Islanders. Many AAPIs in the United States experience cultural, economic and language barriers that contribute to discrimination and make HIV prevention, care, and treatment efforts even more challenging."

This is the first time in the history that the HIV/AIDS problem in the Asian community got acknowledgment from the highest levels of government. The community is thrilled. "It is very encouraging to know that the President of the United States understands our community is severely affected by HIV and that health disparities persist," said Therese R. Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer of Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS (APICHA), "This is a great step forward for us – a community that is too often excluded, underfunded and under-served."

I only hope words will be transferred into resources and actions as soon as possible for the benefit of people like a Chinese man who covered his face and cried when he talked to me about the isolation he felt since his diagnosis, the Malaysian woman who was abandoned by a boyfriend and soon found out she was HIV-positive, and many others like them.


Picture of Angilee Shah

Congrats on your honorable mention for the New America Award from SPJ, Rong! And for your enlightening reports on HIV/AIDS in immigrant communities:

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