Friday, 27 June 2014

Today is National HIV Testing Day, a day that focuses on the importance of knowing your HIV status and encouraging others to get tested. It is also a day to remember and reiterate to everyone that HIV testing saves lives. When a person is diagnosed with HIV early on and begins treatment early (and remains on treatment), he or she has a much better chance of living to a normal life expectancy. Plus, when a person knows they are HIV positive, they are more likely to take steps to protect their partners.

So, why is this important to farmworker organizations and supporters? The truth is, it is much more difficult for farmworkers and other rural or mobile populations to find a testing location, get to the testing location, receive a HIV test in their native language, be able to access HIV medication, and be able to take their medication consistently for the rest of their life. Those are a lot of barriers and not every farmworker will encounter all of them (and maybe a lucky few won’t encounter any of these), but as organizations interested in the lives of farmworkers and their families, these are barriers that make it difficult for farmworkers to find out their status and remain healthy if they test positive

HIV testing is the first step in the HIV Care Continuum, a model the government uses to look at the challenges and opportunities related to the care and treatment of people living with HIV. After testing positive for HIV, there are four more steps: linkage to care, staying in care, getting on HIV drug therapies, and maintaining a low amount of HIV virus in the body. Sadly, the numbers consistently drop. Of those who test positive for HIV, less get linked to care, and less of those linked to care stay in care, and less of those who stay in care get on HIV drugs, and even less maintain a low amount of virus.

Many farmworkers are not even able to get to that first step – getting tested and knowing their HIV status. However, just like many others in this country, many farmworkers are at risk for HIV. And if they do test positive, they have a much harder time getting linked to care, staying in care, getting HIV drug therapies, and maintaining a low HIV virus in their body. Some farmworkers that do find out they are HIV positive decide to return to their home country (where hopefully they will receive treatment and care), but some choose to stay here.

There is a lot of things we, as farmworker organizations, can do to help farmworkers overcome some of these challenges. We know that many farmworkers do not go to health centers or health departments regularly, and when they do, the first thing on their mind is most likely not an HIV test. However, they often interact with other social service organizations like attending ESL classes, getting involved in their children’s schools, and talking to lawyers about work issues. If we could use these avenues to encourage and organize HIV testing and education (through job fairs, school fairs, referrals, medical-legal partnerships, etc.), we could make great strides in helping farmworkers to know their HIV status. From there we could concentrate on some of the other steps mentioned above in the Continuum of Care, like helping HIV positive farmworker get linked to care, stay in care (for example, linking them to care in another State if we know they are heading north for a few months), help find ways to get on affordable life-saving drug therapies, and encouraging them to take their medication as directed.

Farmworker Justice is working hard, through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) grant, to educate and assist non-HIV organization in how they can play an important role in HIV prevention. As part of our AAALI work, we will be sponsoring free, confidential HIV testing at the National Council of La Raza’s Latino Family Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, CA from 19-21 July from 10:30am – 6pm. HIV testing will be done by AltaMed. Throughout the Expo we will also be sponsoring a booth and activities to highlight HIV/AIDS prevention. We look forward to seeing you there!   

by Kattrina Merlo
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Monday, 10 March 2014

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a national campaign to raise awareness about HIV and its impact on women and girls. It is observed on 10 March and Farmworker Justice is proud to work with our Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) partners, ASPIRA and National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) to promote this important day.

Women and girls have been impacted by HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. Women’s and girls’ risk of HIV is often overlooked, although approximately 25% of those infected with HIV in the United States are women. Black and Latina women are disproportionately affected compared to women of other races/ethnicities. By the end of 2010, Black women accounted for 64% of all estimated new HIV infections among women and Latina women accounted for an estimated 15%. [Source: Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services]

The theme of NWGHAAD is “Share Knowledge. Take Action.” This year we decided to connect with organizations and people and hear from them. We partnered with our Latina AAALI partners ASPIRA and NHCOA, and collected a series of thoughts and reactions on HIV/AIDS and its impact on women and girls from our staff, partner AAALI organizations, organizations we work with nationally and in the field, constituents, and individuals. The thoughts ranged from a few words to page long reactions, poems, and memories. From the words of each submission we created a word cloud image of a hand, and then used each hand to create a larger image of a tree to symbolize courage and strength, life and growth.

The responses we got were truly moving. Some women talked about when they first learned about HIV or when they first experienced the death of someone close to them due to HIV. Others admitted to not really even thinking about women and HIV at all. Before being asked to reflect, they had not realized that women have different risks than men do and that some women may have a harder time protecting themselves from HIV or taking care of themselves if already infected. Some people sent words, powerful words, that came to mind when they thought about HIV and women: fear, exposed, voiceless, orphans, rape, mothers. We received responses in English, Spanish, and even Mixteco. Thoughts came from farmworkers, farmworker organizations, health centers, youth, older adults, national organizations, and organization Presidents and CEOs. To see the word clouds and read the individual messages, please visit our Facebook page.

What we learned is that we need to talk about women, girls, and HIV/AIDS more often and with more people. We need to encourage more women and girls to get tested, help HIV positive women find the care and treatment they need, and work to reduce the stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS in our communities.

Farmworker Justice is a proud partner of the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) and is working to raise the HIV knowledge, awareness, and action in farmworker and Latino communities. We encourage all our partners, supporters, and friends to “share knowledge and take action” today, on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and every day.

by Kattrina Merlo
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Friday, 28 February 2014

February is National Condom Month. Created to bring greater awareness to the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, National Condom Month presents an opportunity for organizations to highlight and advance their condom promotion and distribution activities. As we near the end of the month, Farmworker Justice urges communities to continue to promote condom usage as an effective HIV prevention method.

Studies suggest that condom adherence tends to be low among rural Latinos, due to poverty, cultural norms that don’t encourage condoms use, limited access to healthcare services, low literacy, and language barriers. For optimal adherence to condoms, condoms have to be available without restrictions in rural Latino areas, and individuals must feel self-confident enough to use them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages partners, to pursue a High-Impact Prevention (HIP) approach. One of the principle HIP strategies that has been proven effective is Condom Distribution as a structural level intervention.  

In order to align our HIV prevention efforts with HIP, the Poder Sano team is finalizing a training module on condom distribution as a community-wide intervention for HIV prevention. This new module will be incorporated into our existing curriculum, Training Promotores de Salud in HIV Prevention in Rural Latino Communities: A Train-the-Trainer Curriculum. The new module equips promotores de salud with the necessary skills to plan, implement and evaluate a community-wide condom distribution project. Promotores will assess the availability, accessibility and acceptability of condoms in their communities and then develop activities that respond to gaps in these three areas.  

Another innovative way Farmworker Justice is trying to change attitudes and cultural norms related to condom use is through a customizable Spanish-language Public Service Announcement (PSA), titled Mejor Cuidate (Better Take Care of Yourself). This Spanish-language PSA which is set up as a conversation between peers, encourages and normalizes condom use for young Latino men. A customizable tagline allows for tailored information to be recorded by local organizations that air the PSA. 

We encourage you to advance condom distribution in your communities by ensuring that condoms are more available, accessible, and acceptable. By doing so, we can reduce the spread of HIV.

If you are interested in obtaining the condom distribution module for promotores de salud and/or Mejor Cuidate, our PSA promoting condom use among Latino youth, please contact

by Valentina Stackl
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