United States Conference on AIDS 2008
by David Stupplebeen
In September, I attended my first United States Conference on AIDS (USCA), held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was at once both impressed and depressed by what I saw those few days in Florida and I hope that when USCA is held in San Francisco in 2009 we have a better chance for Asian & Pacific Islander representation.
What I was most impressed with during USCA was the large amount of attendees who were all working together to end HIV and AIDS. While this large group was impressive, the thing that got me thinking the most was the numbers—both in dollars and in infection rates.
For instance, during our Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) Institute, I met a woman from upstate New York who was Puerto Rican. Earlier that morning, Univision, Kaiser Family Foundation and the Latino Commission on AIDS launched their brand new public service announcement campaign, “Soy.” To promote the campaign, a Latino Institute was scheduled at the same time as our A&PI Institute. Because of this, I thought it peculiar that she would choose to attend our Institute, so I asked her why she came. As it turns out, she is a case manager experiencing an influx of Burmese refugees at her agency since upstate New York is a resettlement area.
“These people have no resources, and we have no resources to help them,” she said to me. “I need help! I need to learn how to interact with these people! We don’t have anything to help them with! That’s why I’m here, to find out about the Burmese refugees and how I can help them.”
Unfortunately, the session was not set up for this type of one-on-one troubleshooting, but I gave her the information I did have, including different brochures and manuals addressing the unique concerns of A&PI clients. I offered to email her some of our capacity building materials targeting Burmese refugees and invited her to stop by our booth to pick up additional materials.
In other sessions, people were not nearly as interested. At one session I attended presented by my co-worker, half the room walked out as soon as the words “Asian & Pacific Islanders” were uttered.
These two experiences were most telling. When presented with information about A&PIs, many people don’t care, and if they do care, they’re in such a panic to get information that they need it right then and there. This seems to be the problem with the HIV community in general—until the problem gets to a crisis point, it is largely ignored.
It took Reagan nearly a decade to admit that HIV was a problem, when will others in the movement be able to recognize that it’s a crisis in the A&PI community?
This gets back to my earlier point about numbers. What sort of critical mass do we need to get more funding? Do we need a large spike in the numbers of A&PIs who test HIV-positive? How long do we, as a group, continue to operate in obscurity?
Ironically, the CDC did recently release new and frightening numbers indicating there was a spike in the number of A&PI HIV infections. From 2001 to 2006, the largest proportionate increase in the number of HIV/AIDS diagnoses was among A&PI MSM aged 13-24 years. That increase was nearly 256%. Obviously, if A&PI-centered programs are shutting down and a spike in diagnoses occur, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or an epidemiologist for that matter) to see that we have a problem.
My experience at USCA was eye-opening. While the general lack of focus on our communities is lamentable, it’s even more discouraging that what little coverage existed was overlooked. Perhaps we spend too much time wrapped up in our own A&PI bubble and forget how important it is to translate our research or findings to the general population. One of the points that I was most fond of during our Institute was the need for more disaggregated data for A&PIs. In fact, all minority groups would be well served by a move towards disaggregating data. For example, “Latino” is an umbrella term, similar to A&PI. The grouping can serve a useful purpose, particularly in terms of political alliances, but it can also obscure the cultural and linguistic differences that apply to Latin America, just as “A&PI” masks the vast diversity of Asia and the Pacific. Disaggregated data will help Latinos better target interventions for their populations, just as it will for A&PIs.
Our agency’s recent partnership with other minority HIV/AIDS organizations (under the “People of Color” banner) and the recent policy document released with the National Minority AIDS Council is a good first step. I hope that we can continue this dialogue and be on the forefront of working collaborations with other HIV/AIDS organizations that serve varied ethnic communities. Collaboration such as this can strengthen our voice; we can move in lockstep with other minority groups.
But even with this recent collaboration, we must make sure that we demonstrate that A&PIs are not just one singular group who all fit neatly within this silo. This is why I’m much more hopeful for USCA 2009. Since it will be here in San Francisco, I expect more A&PIs to attend in greater numbers—to show that we are not just “A&PIs” or “others,” but that we are an extremely large, diverse group that cannot be pigeonholed by skin color or language. Our cultural differences can be vast, and one-size-fits-all solutions do not work for our community.
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