Today is National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The day brings awareness to those who have HIV and are of Asian and/or Pacific Islander (API) descent. The theme for 2015 is "Saving face can't make you safe. Talk about HIV—for me, for you, for everyone."
First established by the Banyan Tree Project in 2005, the date is now officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, as one of eleven federally recognized HIV/AIDS Awareness Days that happen throughout the year. (To learn more these other dates, visit the National HIV/AIDS Observance Days web site.)
On National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day organizations dedicated to providing HIV services to API clients host events across the country to raise awareness about the impact of HIV on the API community, especially focusing on reducing discrimination and stigma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders comprise a small percentage of all HIV infections in the United States. Asians accounted for 2 percent (950) of the estimated 47,500 new HIV infections in the United States in 2010. And this represented a 20 percent decrease in the rate of estimated new infections since 2007. Meanwhile, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, accounted for less than one percent of new HIV infections in 2010.
However, in 2013 Pacific Islanders had the fourth highest estimated rate of total HIV diagnoses (12.7 per 100,000 people) in the United States by race/ethnicity.
For Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, The Banyan Tree reports, “HIV stigma is the primary barrier to HIV testing and access to treatment, leaving [APIs] the least likely racial group to get tested for HIV (National Health Interview Survey, 2010) and among the least likely to know their status. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show [API] gay and bisexual men are less likely to know they have HIV than their African- American or Latino counterparts (Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 2010).”
The Banyan Tree Project is a national social media campaign to stop HIV- and AIDS-related stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. According to the organization, discrimination pushes many people in the community who are living with or at-risk for HIV into the closet and keeps them from getting tested and/or accessing health care and HIV services.
“Many A&PIs do not seek services because they are afraid to be seen walking into an AIDS clinic or into an agency that provides HIV tests,” according to the Banyan Tree website. “If a friend or a family member saw them, they might be rejected or shunned in their family or community. In a world free of stigma, A&PIs could access the services they need to stay healthy without fear or shame. This is the ultimate goal of the Banyan Tree Project – to improve the health of A&PIs by increasing their use of HIV prevention and treatment services. When stigma is eliminated, this becomes possible.”
The Banyan Tree Project does educational outreach in their community, providing information about the disease and how HIV-related stigma affects those who are API.
“When we have knowledge, fear is transformed into understanding and compassion,” Banyan Tree says. “A&PIs living with, and at risk for, HIV/AIDS deserve to be treated just like everyone else – with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, many A&PIs affected by HIV/AIDS have been rejected by their families, their loved ones and their communities. Through education, the Banyan Tree Project helps people accept A&PIs living with, and at risk for, HIV/AIDS, so that they do not have to be afraid or feel ashamed.”