‘Latino men are not just going to walk into our doors’: Tobe discusses how DAP Health is working with Latino men
By Robert Hopwood, DAP Health
Across the nation, HIV cases have decreased in white men, but they have increased in Latino men.
In the Coachella Valley, DAP Health also has seen the number of HIV cases in Latino men under the age of 40 increase, says C.J. Tobe, Director of Community Health and Sexual Wellness Services at DAP Health.
Locally, since 2019, about 25% of new HIV cases have been Latino men under the age of 40, according to DAP Health data.
In light of Palm Springs' demographics, the fact that a quarter of new HIV cases are Latino men under the age of 40 is a lot, Tobe says.
Tobe says those numbers also result from DAP Health's work of engaging that community and ensuring they have access to education and testing specifically the new HIV self testing program where over 30% of self testers have been latino men.
DAP Health has found that while Latino men under the age of 40 may get diagnosed with HIV in a mobile clinic at a health fair in Indio, for example, they would have gone years without an HIV test, or even knowing they were living with HIV, if DAP Health had not brought services to them in the east valley, Tobe says.
"Latino men are not just going to walk into our doors until it's too late, Tobe says.
Social determinants of health like poverty are driving new HIV infections in the east valley, Tobe says.
Related: C.J. Tobe
DAP Health can correlate HIV rates with poverty, he says. The majority of Latino men under 40 who are newly diagnosed with HIV live below 200% of the federal poverty level. For a single person, that is $25,760.
Poverty is a significant driver of everything to do with HIV, Tobe says. People with minimal or no income are not going to prioritize routine HIV testing or take preventative medication like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), or consistently use condoms.
"It also leads to people having survival sex. Sex for shelter, sex for food, or having sex to make money, to be able to afford those things they need, which also puts them at risk for HIV," Tobe says.
Another contributing factor to HIV infections is cultural, Tobe says. Sex is not something people talk about openly. Some men may still be in the closet, or they could be on the "down low” or “discreet.” It is challenging for men who have not accepted their fluid sexuality to acknowledge their sexual health should be a priority such as getting tested for HIV and STDS and take PrEP and consistently use condoms.
Tobe says DAP Health is doing many things to reach this population, including:
- Sending free self HIV test kits to anyone who requests one;
- Advertising on bus shelters across the valley;
- Confidentially providing people with education and community resources;
- Setting up health tables in areas with Latino populations;
- Providing support to Riverside County and their substance use and mental health departments;
- Working with four recovery centers in the east valley;
- Attending area events like The Flying Doctors, El Grito Festival, East Coachella Valley Pride, and the Indio Open Air Market;
- California Care Force;
- Working with the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio, the re-entry program, and the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission; and
- Attending Latin Nights at Coachella Valley clubs.