The Latinx community is disproportionately affected by HIV / AIDS. In fact, a study conducted by the CDC in 2018 found that 27% of cases were from the Latinx / Hispanic community.
Much has changed since the first case in 1983.
It has been epidemic for more than 40 years, but time has worked in its favor. There is more information than ever, better treatment, easier access to care and hope for people living with HIV.
I know for a fact that my cousin (though I called him tío) would have loved to reap the benefits of new developments – the 1990s were tough for anyone living with HIV, and fate was not in their favor. But being professionally trained in the medical field, I would almost bet he would be delighted to know that so many people are now able to live long lives thanks to science and with the full support of their families. Fortunately, he was counting on some of that support. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for many in the Latinx community.
The case of the HIV / AIDS epidemic in the Latin community
You see, having the support of your family, your Latinx family, can be a challenge in itself.
Years ago, many families, including Latinx families, avoided family members due to misinformation or lack of access to information that existed. If any information circulated, it would not be in Spanish.
There were so many hoops to jump around, which ultimately left so many people alone, homeless, and without much hope.
These same people would not even have imagined seeing a television commercial about living with HIV (in Spanish, no less!) To be broadcast. But it does, and Luciano, a 31-year-old Argentinian living in New York City, was the face of it. It was monumental, given that this is the very first TV commercial for HIV treatment in Spanish.
He has been living with HIV since 2010. However, the timing of his diagnosis was not impersonal.
During a trip to New York that year, he fell ill. A few days later, an interpreter gave him his diagnosis over the phone since his doctor at the time did not speak a stroke of Spanish. Many years have passed since that day, and Luciano is as healthy as ever. Yet he does not forget that day and how he stressed the importance of having access to medical information in people’s mother tongues.
For this reason, he collaborated with ViiV Health as a patient ambassador to create this historic advertisement while telling its story.
BELatina News had the pleasure of speaking with Luciano.
This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.
On what he believes is the biggest challenge
I believe the stigma is the biggest obstacle. He’s definitely a big monster that we need to get together to talk about and take down.
On the importance of being part of the very first HIV advertisement in Spanish
After 40 years of the HIV epidemic, it was time to bring information about this, especially in the Hispanic / Latinx community. I also think it is finally acceptable to educate our community and provide the appropriate information in Spanish, but it is important to make sure that this is understandable to our people; sharing the information in a simple message helps a lot.
Why educating the Latinx community is vital
I believe information and education are power. Bringing that to the community is also the best way to empower them. Let’s not forget that sharing your story can help other people with the same problem improve, as it can empower them for their health.
On the reason for his advocacy for HIV
I always say I don’t have superpowers and I’m not a superhero. But when I was diagnosed with HIV, I decided to work on it and get better. Once I was in treatment and had everything I needed, I focused on sharing this information with other peers and others who were going through the same issues. I remember it was very hard for me at the time, but I immediately understood that no one should ever go through this alone.
On what he hopes the Latinx community will get from the publicity and all the new information available
The narrative is what needs to change. Our community needs to understand (and begin to understand) that a person living with HIV is an ordinary person who works, shares with family, and more.
On his hopes that the Latinx community understands their power
Forty years after the start of the HIV epidemic, I think it was time we started sharing our stories with the Hispanic / Latin community. But there are other issues affecting our community that we also need to focus on – immigration policy, cancer and other health issues as well. And, I think we’re stronger if we all come together.
It is steps like these that will help our community understand people, including loved ones, living with HIV rather than vilifying them as before. It was never necessary, and it’s great to see that our community is now moving away from this type of backward thinking.