Moving the Needle: National Asians and Pacific Islanders HIV / AIDS Awareness Day
We know that Asian and Pacific Islander communities (APIs) face tremendous challenges in HIV prevention, treatment, testing and care, which we are reminded of every May 19 when we observe National Day of HIV / AIDS Awareness in Asia and the Pacific Islands (NAPIHAAD). Originally led by the San Francisco Community Health Center (SFCHC), NAPIHAAD educates and raises awareness about the risks of HIV and the impact of HIV-related stigma on the entire API community.
There is often a silence around sexual health, queer sexual orientation, and gender identity in API communities — the same is true of HIV. In addition to stigma, members of the API community face family shame, discrimination and other barriers when it comes to accessing HIV testing, prevention, treatment and care. HIV. The work to combat and improve these barriers is complex, reinforced by our non-monolithic cultural identity, our explicit distinctions and our different languages, all of which present unique challenges.
To better reach the API community with culturally appropriate communications and stories, SFCHC launched the Banyan Tree Project in 2005, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This communication and community engagement campaign shares digital stories in various Asian languages of people from IPA of various gender identities, sexual orientation, age and cultural background about living with or being affected by HIV. and AIDS as a way to break down HIV-related stigma. If we are to move our API communities forward towards greater acceptance and away from shame and stigma, then we need to change hearts and minds – ultimately.
HIV diagnoses among Asians and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI) in the United States and dependent regions respectively accounted for approximately 2% and less than 1% of HIV diagnoses in 2018. While Asians account for 6% of the US population, HIV affects NHOPI in a way that is not always apparent due to the small size of the US population (0.2%). Despite the small size of the population, we must continually remind ourselves that HIV impacts the API and NHOPI communities in ways that are not acceptable and may not be readily apparent. To fully understand the impact on individual communities, we need to disaggregate the data. For example, the disproportionate impact of HIV on communities in Southeast Asia or the Pacific Islands is only apparent when the data is disaggregated.
A united approach firmly rooted in solidarity for communities of color is always essential. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t been supported by our Black and Latinx colleagues. I have worked with the Black AIDS Institute and the Latino Commission on AIDS for years and most recently we have created our Stronger Together partnership. Ending the HIV epidemic must include efforts and organizations led by people of color, as we will be able to reach those who are most difficult to reach; this is what is going to take.
We need to get tested and talk about HIV within our families and communities, because so many of us have not been tested and are living with HIV and not yet knowing it. If we are negative, we need to know that PrEP is an option. We need to start treatment as soon as possible if we are positive. If we are living with HIV, we should know that viral suppression, also known as U = U, protects our health, helps us live long healthy lives, and prevents passing HIV on to others. We can work on viral suppression by finding and staying engaged with a healthcare provider that’s right for us.
We must take advantage of this moment! We cannot take it for granted that things are going in the right direction. We need to make sure we continue to advocate even if there has been progress. Together we can really make a difference on behalf of our communities. This is what keeps me going!