Facing AIDS in the Farmworker Community
December 01 2010
By Kattrina Hancy, Farmworker Justice
As World AIDS Day approaches, people will be standing in solidarity with individuals affected by HIV and AIDS. Some will be thinking about the worldwide AIDS pandemic and countries with infection rates well above those in the United States. Others may recall the high rates of HIV and AIDS in Washington, DC and other large U.S. cities, or the disproportionate number of HIV cases among Blacks and Latinos. However, few will be thinking about HIV among farmworkers. Farmworkers have traditionally been left out of most HIV and AIDS prevention efforts, making them an underserved population. Farmworker Justice, a subsidiary corporation of NCLR, is working hard to change this.
There are approximately two million hired agricultural workers in this country. Given the absence of national data on HIV infection rates among farmworkers, we do not know how many are infected, but useful inferences may be drawn from statistics collected on Hispanics in the United States since a staggering 83% of farmworkers self-identify as Hispanic. We do know that Latinos are disproportionately impacted by the epidemic. Although they represented about 15% of the U.S. population in 2006, they account for 17% of all new infections that year. We also know that the rate of new HIV infections among Latino men is more than twice that of White men, and among Latinas the rate is nearly four times that of White women.
Farmworkers are likely to have a similar profile to Latinos. Unfortunately, the vast majority of epidemiological data on HIV prevalence among farmworkers is based on small, local studies conducted more than a decade ago. In 1992, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a prevalence rate of 5% among 310 farmworkers tested in Immokalee, Florida. A few other small studies have reported rates ranging from 0.47% to 13%. In order to effectively combat HIV and AIDS in the farmworker community there is an urgent need for more research. Without the data, it is difficult for organizations to secure funding for prevention, care, and treatment efforts.
HIV and AIDS take an especially heavy toll on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in U.S. society. Poverty, low income, limited education, substandard housing, and limited access to health care contribute to increased rates of infection in any given population. HIV is not an occupational hazard of farmwork like pesticide exposure or heat stroke, but farmworkers in the U.S. undeniably contend with these other conditions. Moreover, their isolation, status as recent immigrants, and migration for work contribute to low acculturation, which in turn indirectly influences many HIV risk factors. These include increased likelihood of multiple sex partners for Latino men, low rates of condom use among Latinas, less use of testing and health services, increased depression which may lead to elevated rates of alcohol and substance use (which often leads to risky sexual behavior), and increased likelihood of patronage of or employment as sex workers. Farmworkers, few of whom are covered by health insurance, also have limited access to essential health care and HIV prevention information and services.
Since 1997, Farmworker Justice has been working to bridge the gap between these services and the farmworker community. Its HIV program, Poder Sano (loosely translated as “Healthy Power”), mobilizes rural Latino communities around the prevention of HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and tuberculosis. By providing free capacity-building assistance and community mobilization tools, Poder Sano strengthens community-based organizations’ HIV prevention programs, improves monitoring and evaluation practices, and creates partnerships for program support. Farmworker Justice is also part of CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, which seeks to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, knowledge, and action across multiple sectors of the Latino community—including the civic, business, and education sectors—to help accelerate HIV prevention efforts and reduce the stress of HIV and AIDS, especially in rural farmworker communities.
This year, in a joint effort to reduce stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS and promote awareness and testing, Farmworker Justice and NCLR are joining the Facing AIDS initiative hosted by www.aids.gov. To see how both organizations are facing AIDS, click here or visit http://www.flickr.com.
Issues: Institute for Hispanic Health
Geography:California, Far West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Texas