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Ask & Tell

Ask & Tell


Veronica Ayala-Sims's desire to fight HIV among her fellow Latinos was inspired by a TV news story on the devastation of AIDS in Africa. But it wasn't until years later that she decided how to make the biggest impact'as a physician. Ayala-Sims, now 36 and a medical resident at Virginia Commonwealth University, is poised to begin her career as an HIV specialist through the support of an HIV Medicine Association Minority Clinical Fellowship. As a Latina caregiver, she says she hopes that she'll be able to set an example that inspires her peers to follow in her footsteps. What are some of the problems you see in reaching Latinos in trying to provide HIV services? These run the gamut from language barriers and understanding cultural differences in how diseases are perceived to more complex issues like immigration and socioeconomic concerns. There is no one silver bullet to fix all of them. However, one of the first things the health system can do is recognize these issues. So it isn't enough to simply offer information and services in Spanish? No. Latino is not a nationality. It's really a catchall phrase that encompasses a vast group of people from very different socio-cultural-politico-economic regions of the world'all of whom have unique experiences and needs. What is the danger in not effectively addressing these needs? You not only wind up with a higher burden of a preventable disease but also effectively say to these people that they are somehow less valued, less important. If we begin to draw lines based on language, what stops us from drawing those same lines based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, age? How can Latinos better contribute to the HIV fight? Get involved in the health care system as educators and community liaisons or by pursuing, as I did, a medical career as a nurse, therapist, physician, or pharmacist. This not only helps address such basic issues as the ability to communicate with patients but also changes the environment in which services are provided. What message do you have for your community on National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, October 15? The message is the same I would have for any group: Get tested and know your HIV status. Knowledge is power.

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