Confronting HIV/AIDS in the Asian and Pacific Islander Community

Some of Arizona’s first Asian Americans were Chinese immigrants who arrived from California and Mexico in the late 1800s, often finding work in mining camps alongside Irish and Italian immigrants.

Today, Arizona’s Asians and Pacific Islanders, or APIs, represent nations throughout Asia and the Pacific, with Indians and Filipinos constituting the two largest API ethnic groups in Arizona. Although APIs are a small percentage of Arizona’s total population — 2.8 percent — their population is now the fastest-growing in Arizona, increasing by 85,000 in the last decade. In this respect, Arizona mirrors a larger trend; nationally, the Asian and Pacific Islander population grew by 43.3 percent between 2000 and 2010.

More than two-thirds of Asians and Pacific Islanders have never been tested for HIV.

Asians and Pacific Islanders experience the same health problems as the population at large, but like other minority groups, their health needs are best met by understanding how health problems affect them uniquely, and by providing culturally competent health interventions and health care. There’s an increasing need for both as their population grows, especially when it comes to addressing HIV/AIDS in their population. Although APIs have low rates of officially reported HIV/AIDS compared to other racial and ethnic groups, their incidence of unreported HIV/AIDS most likely hides a larger problem. As Dr. C. N. Le of the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS explains, “The statistics say that the prevalence rate among Asians is relatively small, and much smaller than among the black community or the Latino community … But those are official statistics, and official statistics are notorious for undercounting minorities, and especially for undercounting immigrants.”

Lending credence to Dr. Le’s argument is the fact that more than two-thirds of APIs have never been tested for HIV. Even with that low rate of testing, APIs have the highest rate of increase in new HIV infections compared to other racial and ethnic groups. To raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among APIs — and to promote effective prevention and screening — May 19 is National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day serves as a day to observe ongoing efforts of education, prevention, and screening, as well as to plan partnerships and capacity-building for the continuation and expansion of these efforts.

Activists and advocates have cited an assumption among health care providers that APIs are at a low risk for HIV/AIDS as one of the reasons APIs are undercounted in HIV/AIDS statistics. Among the issues addressed on this awareness day are the stigma of HIV/AIDS diagnosis in the API community and the promotion of HIV/AIDS screening by health care providers.

Although the rate of reported HIV/AIDS among APIs in Arizona has dropped somewhat in the last decade, it’s too soon to call a success, especially given the low rate of testing among APIs. Both here and nationally, we will need to confront HIV/AIDS in our many cultural communities to stop its spread. Along with many other services offered, Planned Parenthood health centers are a resource in confronting HIV/AIDS in Arizona’s diverse communities, with staff who can talk to individuals about STIs and help them get the testing or treatment they may need. The Planned Parenthood website also has an online tool called The Check that can help individuals decide if they should get tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV.