With space for reflection, our Latinx community tackles cultural taboos, disparities & HIV stigma


Gratitude was a recurring theme during a day-long seminar for Spanish-speaking people living with HIV in San Francisco.

“It wasn’t just gratitude for the seminar being held in Spanish,” said Alfredo De Labra, health advocacy coordinator at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “People shared gratitude for being able to live in San Francisco, being part of a supportive community, and having reliable access to HIV medications.”

One seminar participant spoke about the unreliable medication supply in his home country, and about his strategy of taking medication every other day to stretch out his supply. 

“Their hearts are soft for the people in their home countries, who suffer through this. There’s such a disparity in resources between here and other countries,” said De Labra.  

Out-of-stock antiretrovirals are a “major obstacle” to HIV medication access in Latin America. In a 2012 analysis, nearly half of the Latin American countries surveyed by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) experienced at least one “stock-out” episode.

“Antiretroviral stock-outs at the dispensing point are a serious public health problem since they result in changes and interruptions in patient treatment,” said the PAHO report.

In San Francisco and the U.S.,  people who are part of the Latinx community may experience other barriers to accessing the HIV care they need. HIV stigma may prevent people from testing for HIV and seeking HIV care, unaddressed trauma may lead to interruptions in medical care, and cultural differences may prevent health care providers from establishing trusting relationships with people seeking care resulting in a number of adverse outcomes related to their HIV status.

“I have also seen a lot of HIV stigma held by younger members of our community. And disconnection between younger generations and older generations—with cultural differences and taboos around sexual health—that can make it more difficult to break down barriers and end HIV stigma,” said Eduardo Siqueiros, case manager for Latino Programs at San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

A seminar offered by the Positive Force Program at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Spanish Positive Living for Us Seminar (PLUS) addressed these concerns, and more, with the Spanish-speaking participants who attended.

“We did more than simply translate the English (PLUS) seminar into Spanish,” said De Labra, who coordinated the event with Kay Nilsson and other community partners. “In addition to providing information about HIV, sharing resources for people living with HIV, and talking through treatment options, we provided a space for people to talk about HIV stigma, acculturation, assimilation, and the ways HIV impacts relationships.”

At the end of the seminar, the group went around in a circle to share their home country. After naming all of the countries represented in the room, the room broke out into cheers and applause.

“We had this epiphany, where we realized how many different Latin American countries were represented,” said De Labra. “It was so important to name, because you bring your history and culture everywhere you go.”

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There are a variety of resources and groups for people living with HIV at San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Find more information about how to get involved.

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