Commentary: Encouraging Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to talk about HIV/AIDS

Dr. Howard Koh

By Dr. Howard Koh
White House Media Affairs Office

“Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV.” This was the slogan for the sixth annual observance of National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on May 19.

I am an Asian American who has seen the stigma and silence around HIV in my community, so this theme and the day itself have particular meaning for me.

On this important occasion, I want to acknowledge all the communities and organizations around the country that are working to break the silence and address the impact of HIV on the diverse set of people who make up our nation’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

The number of HIV/AIDS cases among AAPIs may be higher than reported because of underreporting or misclassification of Asian Americans and other Pacific Islanders. Many AAPIs in the United States experience cultural, economic, and language barriers that contribute to discrimination and make HIV prevention, care, and treatment efforts even more challenging.

This is a time to acknowledge these challenges and expand the use of culturally appropriate solutions. As the lead organizer of National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the Banyan Tree Project as well as many other organizations has been working to create and share resources, plan local events, and reduce HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and stigma in AAPI communities.

Another way we are addressing these challenges is by sharing our voices in the development of our National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Health care providers, advocacy groups, and people living with HIV/AIDS from the AAPI community answered the call and provided input on ways to improve HIV prevention, care, research, and treatment in our nation.

The Office of National AIDS Policy has led the administration’s commitment to developing the strategy through an inclusive process with a broad range of perspectives and stakeholders, including AAPI communities. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy will soon be released.

I encourage you to join me in taking action and ask yourself, “When was the last time I talked about HIV with a family member, friend, or neighbor?”

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once as part of their routine health care. There are HIV testing sites around the country, many of which offer free or low-cost testing. Many of these locations also offer STD screenings and hepatitis vaccines. ♦

To find out where to go in your area for HIV testing, visit www.HIVtest.org, send a text message with your zip code to “KNOWIT” (566948), or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636). For more information about AAPI HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and how HIV/AIDS affects the AAPI community, visit www.banyantreeproject.org, www.AIDS.gov, or www.cdc.gov/features/APIHIVAwareness.

Dr. Howard Koh is the assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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