Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


HIV/AIDS Ministry To Latinos Garners CDC Support

Published May 1, 2008

Nor is there a word for HIV/AIDS.

That language barrier is becoming a devastating omission for members of metro Atlanta’s Mayan communities in Canton and Covington. They are contracting AIDS and dying—without any knowledge of the disease or its causes.

“One day they’re healthy and working, and within months, they’re dead,” said Irene Miranda, director of the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s HIV/AIDS Ministry. “They come (to Georgia) from remote villages, where they have no idea of the risk of this disease. And even if they do find out, there are no AIDS service organizations up there.”

Miranda estimates that there are more than 10,000 Mayan Indians living in outlying areas of metro Atlanta, but they represent just the tip of what has become an alarming statistic among Latinos nationwide: Latino immigrants are becoming the second fastest-growing population newly diagnosed with HIV. According to 2006 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of AIDS diagnoses for adults and adolescents in all racial and ethnic groups show that the second highest (after the rate for blacks) was the rate for Hispanics/Latinos at 19 percent. By the end of 2006, an estimated 80,690 Hispanics/Latinos with AIDS in the 50 states and the District of Columbia had died of the disease.

Connecting metro Atlanta’s Latinos to HIV/AIDS services and ministries is one of the challenges Miranda faces every day in her job. It’s also the challenge she brought up during a national consultation with the Centers for Disease Control earlier this month. Miranda participated in the two-day meeting “HIV/AIDS Prevention Among Hispanic/Latino Communities: A Consultation with Leaders from the Latino Community.” CDC officials asked Miranda and others for their input on how to improve outreach and prevention efforts in the Latino communities to help turn the tide and reduce new infections. Miranda was more than happy to oblige with a response.

“In the South, especially in rural areas, you see a mirror of what we saw (with AIDS) in the 1980s,” Miranda said. Although the numbers are not the same, the rapid spread and ignorance of the disease is similar to that period, she explained.

“It’s what I’m calling the second wave of AIDS. Outside of metro Atlanta, you’ll find large Hispanic populations. These people are already marginalized. How do you get people to know their (HIV) status, and link them to healthcare?”

Catholic churches here have provided a vital link to those services, she said. Bringing more HIV/AIDS outreach education to metro Atlanta Mayan and Latino Catholic communities, and with that, the sorely needed federal funding for these programs, is the message she brought to the CDC meeting.

Federal funding for HIV/AIDS education programs is connected to reporting rates of HIV/AIDS, she said, and although the Catholic Church is involved extensively in these efforts, they currently receive no federal funding.

The idea of faith-based initiatives receiving federal aid is not new. However, the Catholic Church has not received funds for its efforts in HIV/AIDS prevention, she said. (Atlanta has one of the most active HIV/AIDS ministries in the Southeast and includes 20 parishes with long-standing HIV/AIDS ministries.)

Helping fund those ministries is important to reducing the tide of new infections, she said.

“When looking at national studies on spirituality and religion, 75 percent of Hispanics identify themselves as Catholics,” said Miranda. “We’re in a good proactive public health position to be able to address prevention strategies in the Latino community.”

Miranda’s own involvement in AIDS ministry is extensive. She serves on the HIV task force with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and she has been working in HIV/AIDS ministry since the 1980s, first in Miami, and now in Atlanta having been at her present post for the past five years. A candidate for a master’s degree in public health concentrating in blood-borne pathogens, Miranda also feels at home talking to health officials about the mechanics of the virus’ spread.

Working with the CDC panel, Miranda also promoted the need for improved surveillance data collecting for Hispanics and received the CDC’s attention to include the Catholic Church’s efforts in their next series of consults on HIV/AIDS. Currently data collection on new HIV infections in Latino populations is limited to just 33 states and does not include Georgia in the surveillance data. (Reporting standards differ for actual AIDS cases and new HIV cases, Miranda said.)

“We have been left out of the conversation. It’s not wise for the federal government to ignore the role of the church, especially since we minister to hard-to-reach communities. And with the growing number of people infected, we have to collaborate. …This is an ongoing issue.”

As a result of Miranda’s involvement in consultation, the CDC committed to include the Catholic Church in future consultations and collaborations, including funding opportunities, she said. The group hopes to meet again in the next three months.

Miranda was optimistic about the future collaboration with the CDC.

“They heard that the role of the church is important for Latino Catholics and Latinos in general, and this will be part of a serious commitment to help increase the outreach to the Latino community and to address the disproportionate allocation of funding for outreach,” Miranda said.