In honor of National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day today, GMHC announced that the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted the agency $1.5 million over the next five years to expand testing, prevention, and care services for Puerto Rican gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.
"GMHC is known to the LGBT community as a place where individuals can receive exemplary services in a safe, non-judgmental, sex-positive, and culturally-competent environment," said Janet Weinberg, chief operating officer/interim CEO. "This trust is key to GMHC's success in serving underserved and marginalized populations."
The new program it funds is dubbed Leaders in Networking and Knowledge (LINK II) and will, according to the group, "utilize three strategies to: effectively identify and serve Puerto Rican MSM who are at high risk of HIV infection or are infected with HIV but unaware of their HIV status; are aware of their HIV infection but have never accessed medical care; or who have dropped out of care. The following strategies are designed to provide this targeted population with HIV testing and counseling, link them to medical care, and help them remain engaged in medical care."
Latinos account for about 1 in 4 new infections among gay and bisexual men. The largest number of new infections among Hispanic/Latino MSM (39%) occurred in those aged 25 to 34. In New York City, 68% of Hispanic/Latino males diagnosed with HIV are men who have sex with men. Researchers say this is because of the numerous factors in the Latino community that significantly impact the ability of gay and bi men to seek care such as homophobia, stigmatization of HIV, high rates of poverty, immigration status, substance use, lack of bilingual HIV educational resources, as well as religious and cultural values in the Puerto Rican culture such as machismo and "respeto" (respect for the culture and family authority figures).
That's why LINK II will enlist HIV-positive recruiters from the Puerto Rican MSM community to recruit their associates through social networks for HIV testing. This strategy has proven to effectively reach HIV-positive individuals in communities that are otherwise hard-to-reach. Then there will be what they call a linkage navigation specialist, another Puerta Rican gay or bisexual man who will give the newly poz guy culturally-relevant materials and personally escort him to medical care for his initial visit.
GMHC will collaborate with Mount Sinai Hospital to keep these men engaged in medical care. The hospital has culturally-sensitive supportive services, bilingual staff, and is in a location known for being gay-friendly and sex-positive. The hospital services also include mental health counseling, support groups, transportation assistance, health insurance and benefits advocacy, and housing assistance.
"As a leader in HIV prevention and LGBT health in New York City, Mount Sinai is proud to work tirelessly with GMHC in continuing to blend evidence-based and community-based interventions with advanced HIV care and prevention," said Demetre Daskalakis, MD, medical director of HIV Ambulatory Care Services at The Mount Sinai Hospital. "Our symbiotic partnership continues to create innovative opportunities to address the health disparities in highly impacted populations, such as the community of Puerto Rican MSM."
State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who represents the Western and Central Bronx noted, "I am very pleased that GMHC has been awarded the funds to expand their preventive and medical services for Latino gay and bisexual men. Their track record of working within the LGBT Latino community is well known, and I look forward to collaborating with them to ensure their continued success."