SILVER SPRING – Latino immigrants in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties encounter difficulty in getting HIV/AIDS testing and services, due primarily to language barriers, according to a study released Thursday by Casa of Maryland.
The study, released in conjunction with World AIDS Day, focused on Latinos who, Casa said, do not receive adequate access to HIV counseling, testing and referral services. The services available do not take into consideration cultural differences and there are not enough translators for those who do not speak English, the Casa study said.
While health care providers have bilingual employees, there are not enough of them and they are not given proper cultural training, said Omar Reyes, HIV counseling and testing coordinator for Clinica del Pueblo, a Washington – based health clinic that serves the Latino community.
“Get people from the community to serve the community,” Reyes said at a news conference accompanying release of the report at Casa’s headquarters. Health care providers often have materials available in Spanish, said Carmen Valenzuela-Dall, the project’s researcher, but a translator is needed to better explain health issues. Spanish-language illiteracy also makes such materials useless. “It doesn’t make sense to have a lot of materials if they are not used properly,” Valenzuela-Dall said. Of the 294,000 Hispanics in Maryland, 69 percent live in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Hispanics make up 5.4 percent of the Maryland population and 2 percent of all reported AIDS cases in the state through 2004, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Undocumented immigrants are often reluctant to seek health care for fear of reprisal from immigration officials, according to the study.
Tom Perez, president of the Montgomery County Council, said that the law mandates that public services, including available health care services, be accessible to people with limited English ability.
There is plenty of legislation, Perez said, but resources are in short supply. The county has allocated money to help alleviate problem, but the state and federal governments need to step up, he said. Casa released a set of recommendations for government and health care providers. Among them are proposals that the government ensure health care for all immigrants, that funding for properly trained translators be increased, and that a culturally diverse staff that is representative of the community be hired. Casa also asked that government require all publicly funded institutions supply an annual report showing how grants for HIV services are helping those with limited English ability. The Maryland AIDS Administration is considering using vans to take HIV testing and counseling services into the communities in Montgomery and Prince George’s, said Naomi Tomoyasu, acting director of the administration. A similar program was successful in Baltimore, she said. Because of the stigma associated with AIDS, immigrants may be afraid to seek testing in a clinic.
While Montgomery County has programs to offer health care to those without insurance, input from the community is needed to determine what services are lacking, said Richard Helfrich, deputy health officer for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services. Spanish-speaking immigrants are not the only ones in need of better services, Helfrich said, as low-income citizens and immigrants from all parts of the world, particularly French-speaking Africans, are also in need of better access to HIV/AIDS services.