Hispanic Heritage Month
By Leighton Ginn
HIV has disproportionately affected the Hispanic population, but DAP Health’s Ruth Diaz De Leon said what has hurt the community will also be its most valuable weapon in stopping the spread – communication.
A CDC report said a fifth of the population with HIV are Latinos, and a quarter of all new cases are Latino. In 2018, Hispanics and Latinos made up 27 percent of the 37,968 new HIV diagnosis in the US.
As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, we take a look at how HIV has affected this segment of the population, which has been hit hard.
De Leon, the community health educator, said the main issue is communication, or the lack of it.
In the CDC report, 1 in 6 Hispanic/Latinos with HIV are unaware they have it.
“From what we’ve seen with patients here, typically they grow up not speaking about sexual health with their families because there is some shame that comes with it and being judged. It hinders them from learning about protection and how things are transmitted,” De Leon said. “It can be pretty difficult just because most of them are in that mentality that they weren’t raised to speak about this and they don’t want to know about this.”
What has been effective for De Leon is understanding how to relate to them. When patients come into DAP Health to talk about HIV and AIDS, De Leon presents the facts to them. While the facts are important, she said the next level is to relate to them by sharing antidotal information that will resonate with them. De Leon is a native of the Coachella Valley, having grown up in Desert Hot Springs, and understands the nuances of the community.
“I’m also Hispanic and I can relate to them pretty well. I’ll let them know, ‘I know this is how it was, but let me just tell you what I know and we can go from here.’ We also let them know it’s confidential what we speak about and if they have any questions,” De Leon said. “That usually breaks down the wall with them. They’re like ‘OK.’
“We’ve provided them with the tools in a judge-free zone, so they know to come here.”
De Leon has worked at DAP Health for three years and feels they have made progress. She feels that by reaching out to the community, they have built up DAP’s reputation through word of mouth.
“That’s what has been happening with us here. That’s how it’s gotten better,” De Leon said. “It’s about providing a judgement-free conversation. It opens them up to want to wanting to learn more and being open minded.”