Youth of color still lack education on HIV and AIDS in OC

After a four-decade struggle, public health officials have never had a better understanding of how to deal with the virus that causes HIV and AIDS, yet they fail to educate young people of color on how to protect against the dreaded disease.

While whites still constitute the largest population of individuals infected with HIV and AIDS in Orange County, the number of new cases in the Hispanic and African American communities is on the rise.

“Compared to the 1980s, whites represent a decreasing proportion of the county’s HIV cases, while [Hispanic, Black, and Asian populations] are increasing, ”according to a recent OC Community Indicators report.

The county health care agency reported 651 patients with HIV and AIDS from 2011 to 2012 across the county. Of that total, nearly 50 percent were Hispanic and about 35 percent were between 20 and 29 years old. Despite these statistics, there are few programs in the county that focus on HIV and AIDS awareness for young people of color.

“I think [sex education] in this country is a travesty, ”said Samantha, a former sex education teacher who did not want her full name published. “It’s such a critical aspect of physical and mental health, and most of the time it’s too taboo to talk about it.”

Center OC, a non-profit organization in Santa Ana focused on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, holds group meetings throughout the week for different age groups and offers HIV testing. free almost every day. Meetings include LifeTalk, Transgeneros en Accion and Rainbow Juniors.

“These groups are where we can all be comfortable asking questions that may not be relevant in other social settings,” said volunteer facilitator Eric Ayala.

At a recent OC Center meeting, a predominantly gay group of about 20 men spoke openly about HIV and AIDS. Members of the group said the LGBT community is still struggling with the perception that they are strictly “gay illnesses.”

“I feel like we know more than the average straight person when it comes to sex education,” said one bisexual man in the group. Others nodded in agreement.

However, those who use the facilities at the OC Center represent a small fraction of the LGBT community in Orange County. Those who take the time to learn about HIV, AIDS, safe sex and healthy relationships are not the high-risk population that public health officials have failed to reach.

While sexual contact remains the leading cause of HIV and AIDS transmission in Orange County, 18 percent of patients are infected through intravenous drug use.

Such statistics have led many counties in California to initiate needle exchange programs. These facilities allow anyone to trade in their used syringes for new ones, whether for drugs or otherwise.

A study of 81 cities around the world presented to the California Department of Public Health showed that cities with needle exchange programs had an annual decrease in new HIV infections of 5.8%, while rates of Infection in towns without programs was increasing by 5.9% per year.

Yet Orange County, despite having the fourth highest number of HIV and AIDS cases in California, is not among the 36 counties in the state that offer needle exchange programs, according to the Department of California Public Health.

That one of the most conservative counties in California and the country is turning away from such a program is no surprise to those who have been on the front lines of the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Chris Prevatt, a former member of the HIV Planning Council, said he had “never seen a willingness on the part of the Orange County Health Care Agency or the Oversight Board to implement needle exchange programs “.

HCA spokesperson Trisha Landquist acknowledged this, stating that “HIV education programs in Orange County are using harm reduction strategies and information to fight safer use syringes ”.

Landquist added that HCA’s harm reduction and community health education program or REACH distributes “needle hygiene kits” and “where appropriate” refers people to pharmacies participating in a program. statewide that allows them to distribute hypodermic needles without a prescription.

In cities like Santa Ana, home to a large Latin American population, cultural barriers make the fight against HIV and AIDS even more difficult.

City-data.com reports that approximately 45% of residents of Santa Ana are affiliated with a religion. An overwhelming 61 percent of this population observes the Catholic faith. However, no religious conservative has evidence to support the idea that abstinence-only education prevents premarital sexual activity, premarital pregnancy, or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

While the state may and does demand comprehensive sexuality education, the efforts of organizations like the OC Center remain available to those seeking information outside of the classroom or conservative home.

As her LifeTalk members start to leave, Ayala ends her meeting by urging her group members to take free condoms on their way out, shouting at them, “Safe sex is good sex!”

Cleo Tobbi is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and UC Irvine graduate. You can reach her directly at [email protected]com.

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