A resource center for individuals who have contracted HIV has received a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funding is designed to help the underserved and heavily impacted Latinx community, which is seeing the number of these cases increase.
WFYI’s Terri Dee spoke with Damien Center President and CEO Alan Witchey about the hesitancy and fears behind getting tested and how mental health is connected to increased HIV rates.
WFYI Reporter Terri Dee: Alan, is their hesitancy to get tested for HIV, and has the overload of coverage on COVID pushed the importance of getting tested for HIV to the backburner?
Damien Center President and CEO Alan Witchey: There's a hesitancy in the Latinx community to get tested for HIV, oftentimes because it's not really seen as an issue; people culturally don't see it as an issue.
There's a sort of stigma attached to it, as well as not as much knowledge about HIV in general that you see in other cultures, so people are hesitant, they're nervous to go into institutions and get tested. They're nervous because immigration has just become a huge issue in the country and a lightning rod of discussion. So that makes people more nervous to access care of any kind and so to get tested, even for HIV which has other stigmas attached to it, even that much harder.
They're forced into doing things that they would never necessarily want to do. That can be, you know, trading sex for food, or for survival, or other things such as drug use. Sometimes it feels as though it's one of the only options for some people who feel sort of hopeless or feel disconnected and don't feel like they have options.
So addiction can be very big in this population and that is something you don't hear people talk a lot about. But addiction can come in so many ways. But mental health and addiction issues that are untreated, progressively get worse and worse and they lead to more risky behaviors as well.
Dee: Can you tell me about the grant that the Damien Center has received, who it was from, and what it will be used for?
Witchey: So, we are very excited. This is a five-year grant directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it targets Latinx men who are at very high risk for getting HIV.
The great thing about it is, there's sort of various different strategies that we can meet people wherever they are. Some people completely don't know about HIV or are unsure about it, or nervous to talk about it. So we'll have education and outreach and awareness, social media campaigns, as well as in-person on the ground, grassroots efforts, and then that will bring people in to get tested.
So it's free, anonymous, HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing and they can come into our site, or we'll have other locations in the community that they can come get that testing. Then when appropriate, we will navigate people into care.
So whether it's HIV care, or to help with other sexually transmitted diseases, just general health to get people the services that they need.
Dee: Great information today, Alan. Thank you for your time.
Witchey: Thank you.
Contact WFYI All Things Considered newscaster and reporter Terri Dee at email@example.com.