Latino Health Disparities
8:15 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

HIV Cases Rise Amongst Oregon Latinos

The number of H-I-V cases in Oregon is declining, but not amongst Latinos.  They are twice as likely to contract the virus as non-Hispanic whites.  This is the first in an ongoing series on Latino health disparities in Oregon:

"Buenos días.  Mi nombre es Diana Herrera......"

Twice a month, dozens of Latinos from throughout Oregon come to the Mexican consulate in Portland to see about documentation.  They also get a primer on HIV and AIDS and an HIV test if they want one:

"A empezar el timbre...lista?..."

While the number of new HIV cases has leveled off in Oregon,  20-percent of new cases are Latinos compared to a state population that is 12-percent Latino. Michael Anderson Nathe is with the Cascade AIDS Project:

"Hispanic populations are more likely to fall into what we call late diagnoses. Here locally in Oregon we've had folks referred to us who were Hispanic or Latino and didn't find out that they were HIV positive until they ended up in the emergency room and were so far progressed into AIDS that some of them died rather quickly."

Salvador Candela was living in Portland working as a printer in 1991 when he found out he was HIV positive:

"I lost 30 pounds in three weeks until my boss took me to the hospital.  They told me you have hepatitis, you have HIV, and TB. So, I was devastated and I got lost for like an hour, two hours. I just was walking around town crying and crying."

Thinking back, he remembers how he contracted the virus:

"I was living with a man and I was dating a woman because our culture, it's okay to have sex with anybody. It's not okay to say you are gay. You are a faggot. If you say I'm having sex with a woman and a man, I mean it's normal.  And the worst thing, in our culture condoms are not allowed."

Latinos are now twice as likely as non-hispanic whites to be HIV positive and they're slower to come forth to be tested, according to Michael Anderson Nathe:

"There's definitely a lower sense of perceived risk for HIV in Latino communities.  Immigration status is a big barrier as well.  There are folks who when interviewed about living with HIV expressed fears of being deported."

While the rate of  HIV infection among Latino males is disproportionately high, there's a demographic group where it's even higher--Latino women:

"When I found out that I was positive, my initial reaction was I'm never going to be able to have children ever again."

Maricela Berumen gave birth to a son eleven years ago and soon after found out she was HIV positive. So was her husband, probably as a result of a sexual relationship before he met Maricela. Their health held, but for years they didn't even talk about having another child:

"Then finally my son hit nine, and I told my husband, would you ever consider for us having another child. Oh, let's talk to the doctor. See what she says. To our surprise our HIV doctor said yes, you guys can have children."

Using medicine and an ovulation kit, B

Maricela Berumen

erumen gave birth again two years ago. The baby was HIV negataive. Berumen now works for the Cascade AIDS Project and she says there's a reason for the relatively high rate of HIV amongst Latino women:

"Most of these women live with a partner who is the one who makes the decision, so she has no say. So when it comes to birth control or negotiating safer sex, it's either the husband's way or no way."

Berumen also cites the influence of the Catholic Church.

It's anyone's guess if the trend will change and Latinos in Oregon will no longer represent a disproportionate number of HIV cases and AIDS-related deaths. But Salvador Candela doesn't like what he's seeing among young gay Latinos:

"They don't want to go to the doctor because they gonna find out that you have HIV and they're gonna say you are gay. And they're more worried about being gay than being HIV positive.

Currently about 800 Latinos in Oregon are HIV positive. Over the years, another 200 have died of AIDS-related causes.

audio version of this story

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