AIDS awareness campaign targets Hispanics in Miss.

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Rev. Ken Ramon-Landry of Sacred Heart Church believes a new project to educate Mississippi’s Hispanic immigrant community about HIV/AIDS has good intentions, but has some doubts about the online approach.

For many of the hundreds of Hispanics, including undocumented workers, who attend mass at the church in Hattiesburg on any given Sunday, the deadly virus is a “backburner issue,” Ramon-Landry said.

“I think when you’re talking about the HIV situation with the Latino community, that’s up in the stratosphere for most of them,” Ramon-Landry said. “They’ve got other issues, such as profiling going on in our community.”

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The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, using a $9,000 federal grant, has begun an outreach campaign that relies heavily on text messages, its website and the Internet. As part of the campaign, four radio programs will air.

The target group is between 18 and 35. The Mississippi Department of Health approached MIRA about conducting the campaign, Chandler said.

Chandler said texting will be critical. About 500 text messages will go out weekly directing Hispanics to online information and local testing resources, he said.

“Cell phones are the main form of communication for immigrants here. We’ll be encouraging them, if they think they have an STD, to go to the health department and contact us so we can secure services,” Chandler said.

While U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show the number of new infections among Hispanics has been lower than that of whites and blacks, the disease still affects Hispanics disproportionately.

Hispanics make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for an estimated 17 percent of new infections each year, according to the CDC.

In Mississippi, of the 610 new HIV infections reported in 2009, only 18 were Hispanics, according to the state Department of Health.

The CDC doesn’t track HIV/AIDS data for undocumented workers. And no one has a clear count of the population of illegal immigrants in Mississippi. Chandler speculated the figure could be as high as 100,000, based on estimates by advocacy groups and business owners.

Chandler said the project hopefully will give advocates a better idea of how prevalent HIV is among immigrants, particularly the undocumented population.

“There’s never really been an effort to make it a part of a discussion that immigrants are having,” Chandler said.

Ramon-Landry said MIRA’s approach may be “out-of-touch.”

“You’re sending them to a website, for god sakes. They don’t have computers,” Ramon-Landry said.

Ramon-Landry said HIV/AIDS information is folded into health fairs sponsored by Sacred Heart, where immigrants can get blood pressure and diabetes screenings, along with an HIV test.

“You go in and you go out. We keep that confidential so people can feel safer,” Ramon-Landry said.

Luis Espinoza, publisher of La Noticia, said he’ll support MIRA’s campaign by running advertisements about it in the state’s only Spanish language newspaper.

Espinoza said most immigrants tend to avoid medical treatment.

“For any kind of illness, they prefer to just deal with that or maybe get homemade solutions,” Espinoza said. “It’s not because the Latinos don’t care about this kind of problem. They lack the information.”


Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance,