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Working to Erase the Stigma Around HIV & AIDS in Chattanooga’s Latinx Community

Each year, National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day is recognized on Oct. 15 to raise awareness about ways to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS in the Latinx community. But while this day is observed once a year, Cempa Community Care is committed to the cause year-round.

Spreading the word about HIV and AIDS in this population in particular is important for a number of reasons, including an influx of cases in the last decade. Between 2010 and 2016, HIV diagnosis increased by 6 percent among Hispanics and Latinos in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Beyond those who have been diagnosed, there are even more people who have HIV but who haven’t been diagnosed.

“One in six Latinos living with HIV don’t know they have it,” says Paulo Hutson Solórzano, Latinx Outreach Consultant with Cempa. “In the Latino community, there really isn’t much discussion about HIV and AIDS because of the stigma around it, which is brought on by a lack of education and awareness. The more we create this awareness, the more we’ll reduce this stigma.”

A Cultural Difference
People of many cultures and ethnicities have a fear or hesitancy around the topic of HIV and AIDS. Within the Latinx community, there’s an added dynamic at play.

“Within this community, there’s what we call ‘machismo,’ which causes many people to have a false belief that they’re not at risk,” Solórzano says. “A big part of what we do is educating the community on the importance of prevention. We’re hoping that by increasing awareness, people will get tested and take protective action.”

To do that within the greater Chattanooga community, Cempa has developed distinct messaging for this specific population.

“Cempa is taking the educational message around HIV and AIDS and tailoring it to make it culturally relevant,” Solórzano says. “Not every social group has the same culture, and we’re really intentional with our messaging and ensuring that we’re not using scare tactics. Instead, we’re empowering the community with knowledge about what HIV and AIDS are and how they are transmitted.”

Part of that messaging includes dispelling misconceptions, such as the common belief that HIV and AIDS are among the diseases that are spread by mosquitoes or the myth that they can spread through a shared drink.

Building Connections
Cempa’s Latinx outreach team works on sharing HIV and AIDs educational resources within three distinct groups — those in high school, those in college, and the general population.

“When it comes to high school and college students, it’s all about taking the message to them in a safe space,” Solórzano says. “We provide them with the information they need, including the differences between HIV and AIDS.”

Cempa’s outreach is also focused on providing education and resources to parents. The overarching message? If you feel any kind of anxiety about HIV and AIDS, there are many different tools and resources available and Cempa can help.

“It’s taboo to have sexual health conversations in our culture, so we’re taking the message to parents about how they can open things up and have conversations with their children about sexual diseases and their prevention,” Solórzano adds. “It’s important that the general community knows that HIV and AIDS don’t see gender, race, or ethnicity — they affect everyone. That’s why everyone needs to be involved in the conversation about prevention. We’re teaching future generations how to take control of their health and stay safe.”

Cempa Community Care offers HIV resources to the community, including education, testing, and PrEP. Call (423) 265-2273 to learn more.

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