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HIV cases are increasing among younger queer Latinos. Here’s why.

Latin man with two friends in the city with buildings and park in the background
Photo: Shutterstock

Although HIV transmission rates have declined from 201 to 2022, one demographic is seeing a rising share in new HIV infections: young Latino men, the Associated Press reported.

Young Latino men are the most at risk for HIV infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This demographic recently accounted for nearly 33% of new HIV infections even though they only make up 19% of the United States population.

African-American men still have the highest rate of new infections from HIV. However, Latino gay and bisexual men accounted for the largest amount of new HIV cases in 2022. Kentucky, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina have the highest rates of these new diagnoses.

The finding comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is three years into a federal initiative to end the U.S. HIV epidemic.

HHS seeks to increase access to HIV treatment and information by allocating funding into areas that have the highest infection rates. HIV rates declined 23% from 2012 to 2022, but there are still currently 1.2 million people living with HIV in the U.S., including those who don’t know they’re infected.

In 2022, Kentucky, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina saw the highest rates of new diagnoses among Latinos. But in South Carolina, there is enough funding for only four community health workers focused on HIV outreach, some of whom are not bilingual; leaving Latinos who only speak Spanish cut off from healthcare resources.

Public health advocates say that the federal government should redistribute funding to focus on HIV prevention, including access to testing and pre-exposure prophylactics (PrEP), a medication that greatly reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission. Only 4% of the almost $30 billion dollars in federal funding for HIV healthcare has gone to prevention.

Advocates say that outreach efforts at churches, training bilingual HIV testers, and testing at clubs on Latin nights could all help decrease new HIV infections in Latino communities.

“HIV disparities are not inevitable,” Dr. Robyn Neblett Fanfair, director of the CDC’s Division of HIV Prevention, in their call for additional funding and awareness around this disparity.

The aforementioned study also noted that although South Carolina saw HIV infection rates double among Latinos from 2012-2022, the state has not yet expanded HIV mobile testing in rural areas, where the need is greatest.

Likewise, in Shelby County, Tennessee the Latino HIV diagnosis rate rose 86% from 2012 to 2022, yet health department director Dr. Michelle Taylor said, “There are no specific campaigns just among Latino people.”

Shelby County received $2 million in initiative funding in 2023, setting forth a response plan that acknowledges Latinos as a target group for HIV treatment and outreach.

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