May 19th is National APA HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day is officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services with the first National Awareness Day held in 2005. Organizations around the country dedicated to providing HIV/AIDS services to Asian Americans host events in their communities to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS-related stigma.
While HIV is still seen as a men’s issue, the disease continues to rise unchecked among APAs and APA women in particular. Recent analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that APAs have the highest rate of increase in new HIV infections in the nation, the only statistically significant growth among any racial or ethnic group, and yet two-thirds of APAs have never been tested for HIV. The rate of increase for Asian American women is actually higher than that of Asian American men, but the misconception that APAs are not at risk for HIV persists—even among healthcare providers who discourage APAs from getting tested. In fact, a recent study by Dr. Hahm indicates that APA women are less likely than other ethnic groups to be offered an HIV test in OB/GYN settings.
A number of factors contribute to the HIV risk for Asian American women, including a lack of targeted HIV prevention information for women, unequal power dynamics in sexual relationships, biological differences and the fact that a woman’s HIV risk is often indirect. A woman’s HIV risk is her partner’s HIV risk and many women in monogamous relationships are shocked when they test positive. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of APA women living with HIV got it through heterosexual contact (86%). APA women are four times more likely to have an STD than an APA man.
“By 2050, A&PIs will represent about 11% of the US population,” says Lance Toma, executive director of A&PI Wellness Center. “We could be facing a public health disaster if we fail to address the rise in HIV and STD infections in our communities now.”
“Saving face” is a common cultural concept in A&PI communities, where individuals seek to protect the family from perceived public shame or disgrace. In practice, “saving face” contributes to silence about sex, HIV, and safe sex practices. Saving face and stigma also lead to higher rates of HIV infection and a lack of knowledge about one’s HIV status.
Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV—for me, for you, for everyone