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What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is the human immune deficiency virus that can lead to AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. HIV compromises the body’s immune system by destroying CD4+ blood cells, which help fight disease. As HIV progresses into its final stages, the immune system becomes unable to protect itself against many diseases. This can lead to a diagnosis of AIDS.

How widespread is HIV/AIDS?

HIV was first identified 30 years ago and remains a major public health problem in the U.S. and around the world. It is estimated that 34 million people are living with HIV worldwide. This number is growing, with 2.7 million new HIV infections occurring in 2008. About 40,000 people are newly infected with HIV in the U.S. every year. Florida has the third highest number of AIDS cases in the U.S. Within Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward counties have the highest percentage (46%) of people living with AIDS.

What behaviors can put people at risk for HIV?

  • Sharing of drug paraphernalia such as needles and cookers
  • Unprotected vaginal and anal sex
  • Unprotected oral sex
  • Breast feeding of an infant by an HIV+ mother
  • Absence of prophylactic treatment for HIV + women during pregnancy and delivery

How is HIV/AIDS treated?

Medications exist that can help to control the progression of the HIV virus. This medication is known as Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) and can help people to live for many years without developing AIDS. However, HAART is not a cure for HIV.

Adherence to the HAART regimen, closely following the healthcare provider’s instructions, is critical to the success of HIV treatment. Medication adherence of 90-95% is needed in order for HAART to be effective. Sometimes people who are on HAART stop taking the medications or do not take them as instructed. Some examples of reasons why people do not adhere to the medication regimen are listed below:

  • They are feeling well and not experiencing any symptoms, so they believe that they do not need the medications.
  • They don’t want anyone to find out that they are HIV+ because of the social stigma and discrimination related to having HIV.
  • They are actively engaged in substance abuse which can affect their judgment and behavior.
  • They are struggling with the process of recovery from substance abuse.
  • They are dealing with a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder or psychosis.
  • They are experiencing side-effects from the medication.

How can HIV infection be prevented?

Over the 30 year history of HIV we have learned that a lack of comprehensive prevention strategies has contributed to the global HIV pandemic. Therefore, it is critical that we understand how to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, especially in vulnerable populations such as women, adolescents, seniors, MSM and racial and ethnic minority groups. Cultural factors can play a critical role in HIV prevention. For example, Hispanic cultural values and traditional gender roles can make it difficult for Latinas to talk with their partners about condom use or other safer sex practices and behaviors, placing them at increased risk for HIV infection.

Testing initiatives to provide early treatment for those infected with HIV and behavioral interventions to address risk behaviors in diverse populations can have an important impact on preventing infection. El Centro aims to develop and test culturally tailored behavioral interventions to reduce risk that can be used locally, nationally, and internationally and to support community and academic partnerships to further the goal.

For comprehensive and up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS please go the following links: