Silence = Death: AIDS in the APA Community

June 22, 2007

The New York Academy of Medicine released a report in May on the needs of APIs living with HIV/AIDS in the New York City area.

Some key findings show no real surprises (many barriers to care like cost and language, evidence that APIs delay testing, and overall low knowledge of HIV prevention and treatment), but something to note:

Extreme Isolation and Mental Distress Because of HIV Stigma. Reluctance to disclose one’s HIV status because of HIV stigma was a major theme in the qualitative interviews. Many participants experienced extreme social isolation because of their fears about disclosing their HIV status and the sometimes negative responses they received when they did disclose. Social isolation appears to have had significant negative mental health consequences. 71% had low or very low mental health scores, compared to 50% for the cohort. (emphasis mine)

Yet even given these high levels of isolation and mental distress, relatively few had utilized mental health services; providers said the barriers were both clients’ reluctance to seek mental health services and the lack of appropriate services. Once again, we see mental health as a major unaddressed issue in our community.

There are many APAs around the country trying to bring more attention to the issue of AIDS in our community and prompting folks to get tested (Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon got an oral test in front of the press in May). But at the same time, HIV clinics and researchers are seeing their funding slashed as the result of an administration that prefers to promote abstinence instead of sex ed to combat AIDS. Here in San Francisco, a Japanese American researcher at UCSF who worked with Asian and transgender communities was recently fired (he claims racial prejudice and lack of concern for transgendered communities).

I wrote about undocumented Asian immigrants living with HIV/AIDS in New York City in HYPHEN’s Fall 2006 issue (The Music Issue), and it never fails to amaze me how invisible this issue is to our community. Maybe people think it’s a nonissue; it has fallen off our radar since the ’80s and ’90s when it was on all the celebrities’ lips and lapels. Or, more disturbingly, maybe people think that Asian Americans simply don’t get AIDS. I once read a submission from a writer who didn’t use condoms because he assumed the Asian women he slept with were “clean” (his words).

So what to do? Volunteer with or donate to APA AIDS/HIV research and service groups, don’t assume HIV is just a gay or White issue, get tested regularly and for God’s sake, use a rubber.


Lisa Wong Macabasco

Former Editor in chief

Lisa Wong Macabasco joined Hyphen in 2006; she has worked as the magazine's features editor, managing editor, and editor in chief. She has written for Mother Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, AsianWeek, Audrey, Filipinas and ColorLines’ RaceWire. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and co-founded the National Asian American Student Conference. She was formerly an editor at AsianWeek newspaper and an editor in the marketing department of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.