Last week I discovered The Banyan Tree Project, an initiative to eliminate HIV-related stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander Communites in the United States. The project is run by the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco and is funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the Banyan Tree Project fact sheets, 69% of Asians and 56% of Pacific Islanders in the US and US territories have never been tested for HIV, and 1 in 3 Asians and Pacific Islanders living with HIV do not know it. Asian and Pacific Islander women have had the highest rate of increase in new HIV infections, and contrary to popular misconceptions, most of them got it through sex with men.
Strong anti-HIV/AIDS stigma within ethnic communities and “model minority”-type stereotyping is contributing to HIV infection rates among Asians and Pacific Islanders, the project claims:
- Health providers believe A&PIs are “low risk” for HIV infection. They consider HIV testing for A&PIs unnecessary and do not offer HIV tests.
- A&PIs are afraid to get tested for fear of rejection by family and community. Getting tested might expose a secret, such as sexuality or drug use, both heavily stigmatized in the A&PI community.
- A&PIs don’t believe HIV is their issue. HIV is seen as “someone else’s problem.”
- HIV-related stigma increases HIV risk. The intense fear and shame associated with HIV can lead to depression and isolation, often causing people to engage in unsafe behaviors such as unprotected sex or drug use.
I encourage all of you, no matter where you are, and no matter what gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity to go get tested. As the slogan goes, saving face can’t make you safe.