AIDS prevention coalition targets young minorities in Pima Co.

AIDS prevention coalition targets young minorities in Pima Co.

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A new effort is targeting young members of minority groups in Pima County who may not be getting the message about the risks.

According to the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF), people of color represent more than 43 percent of all HIV and AIDS cases.

If you were around during the '80s and '90s, you might remember that there was a lot of information on HIV/AIDS.

However, today's young people really haven't heard that much about it, and that can be dangerous for them.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration created a $1.3 million Minority AIDS Initiative Grant that will pay for a five-year program to reduce the risk of getting and spreading HIV and Hepatitis.

SAAF said the focus is on people of color and gay, lesbian, transgender people, ages 13-24, in Pima County.

However, SAAF Director of Programs Luis Ortega said no young person will be turned away.

Ortega said a goal is to educate youth about the dangers when they engage in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior, especially the risk of HIV/AIDS.

Ortega said people in that age group, no matter their ethnicity, make up more than a quarter of all new HIV infections in the United States.

SAAF said 43.4 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in Pima County involve people of color and 59.9 percent involve gay men.

UA students that Tucson News Now talked with seemed ready to hear the message.

"I think it's a great idea. I definitely want to learn more. I think people my age should become more aware of it as well," said 19-year-old Carmen Chau.

Payton De La Cruz, 19, agreed.

"I think people need to know about it. People need to know that there are risks out there and I think that people perceive it as a threat," De La Cruz said.

Eighteen-year-old Christian Laderas said, "having a little more information on the side never hurts."

"One of the things that we've seen over the years is that there is a huge lack of information among young people," Ortega said.

Ortega said the program will include social media, recruiting young people for peer support, training youth service providers and providing free testing for HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

Ortega said youth will be given the tools they need to be safe and healthy.

"How do we create an environment where young people are feeling confident to say, 'No, I don't want to engage in that behavior" or not feel ostracized because of their decision or made to feel bad or forced into a decision," Ortega said.

Ortega said some young people believe the misinformation they hear.

He said, for instance, many young people think there's a cure for HIV/AIDS, but there's not.

They also think that all it takes to live with HIV is to take a pill.

Ortega said, while medication helps people live longer, AIDS still does kill.

John Jackson has been living with HIV for almost 20 years.

He started as a SAAF client and now is on the staff.

He has to see his doctor several times a year.

His message to young people: It's a lot of hard work to stay as healthy as possible, and still there can be issues.

"It can lead to other illnesses as people go along. The medications can impact how your kidneys work, how your heart works. All of these things have to be carefully monitored," Jackson said.

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