A report said to be the first of its kind examines the challenges facing older Latinos living with HIV.
The Latino Commission on AIDS and the Hispanic Health Network released a report on Wednesday entitled "Olvidados,” which means “Forgotten Ones” in English. It delves into the interlocking factors that make this segment of the population more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, including language barriers, sexual orientation, and access to quality healthcare.
“We started a literature review on what has been done with Latinos who are getting older with HIV, and there wasn’t a lot,” Director of Research and Evaluation for the Latino Commission Dr. David Garcia told NBC Latino. “They also excluded individuals that primarily speak Spanish. We selected people who are often forgotten in research.”
The findings of the report highlight disparities in the quality of life between aging Latinos and non-Latinos, especially those who do not speak English.
In 2016, for example, 25 percent of Latino adults lacked health insurance, compared to nine percent of non-Latino whites.
According to a report by the National Hispanic Council on Aging, in 2013 and 2014, Latinos were also less likely to have a medical care provider than non-Latino African Americans or whites.
“There are some places where individuals are not able to serve people who solely speak Spanish, and the reality is that these individuals are living in extreme poverty,” Dr. Garcia said of aging Latinos with HIV. “They’re more concerned with housing and a job. It can be difficult to prioritize their health.”
The report assessed the challenges facing Hispanics over 50 in areas that see high rates of HIV such as New York City, Houston and San Antonio, Miami and several cities in Puerto Rico. Financial insecurity and housing instability were major factors contributing to making HIV-positive aging Latinos more vulnerable to illness and disease.
Older Latinos are among the least financially secure minority groups in the U.S., with 18 percent living below the poverty line.
Of the 157 participants in the study, nine out of ten had annual incomes of $20,000 or below, and only 4 percent had secured full-time employment.
This lack of stability, the report cited, leads to delays in entering care and an increased likeliness to have poorer access to regular care. Individuals with unstable housing are also less likely to receive optimal antiretroviral therapy and to adhere to therapy compared to those with secure housing.
The report also found that aging individuals with HIV/AIDS tend to exhibit higher rates of psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.
“The mental health aspect was huge for us,” Dr. Garcia said. “This is something that is often altogether ignored for all individuals. If we’re living in isolation or suffering from depression, accessing services is a good thing. We really need to work to demystify that stigma.”
Garcia also noted that, in many Latino cultures, seeking help for psychological disorders is often stigmatized. He referenced a focus group in which participants were asked about their mental well being.
“Mental health would come up, and there is this stigma among Latinos about accessing mental healthcare,” Dr. Garcia said. “But also, there sometimes weren’t any healthcare providers who could do the service in Spanish.”
Dr. Garcia said it was the focus group that gave him hope for the future, as he was able to meet the individuals he was surveying and get to know their resilience.
“Everyone who took the survey also participated in the focus group, and that’s when we were able to disentangle this issue and give it rich context,” Dr. Garcia said. “They were able to share their life with us.”