Looking at the Work to #StopHIVTogether in Puerto Rico this National Latinx HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

This National Latinx HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, AIDS United’s own Anselmo Fonseca shares his story and work to empower communities in Puerto Rico to stop HIV together.

My advocacy spans over 20 years spent defending some of the most marginalized communities cast aside by “mainstream” society due to stigma, discrimination and indifference in Puerto Rico. My passion for advocacy has endured through several natural disasters, including ongoing earthquakes, as well as Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

I am AIDS United’s program manager in Puerto Rico, and I also serve as an ambassador of the U=U Campaign (or I=I in Spanish). U=U means that Undetectable equals Untransmittable.

I work across AIDS United to also support grant-making, developing Hispanic/Latinx initiatives, and to amplify the voice of Puerto Rico with local delegates of AIDS United’s Public Policy Council and congressional leaders.

Although Puerto Ricans on the island archipelago and the U.S. mainland represent just 9% of the total U.S. Latinx population, we are overrepresented among those impacted by HIV.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Nearly representing 23% of HIV cases among Hispanics are among those born in Puerto Rico, as of 2006 according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Historically risk of transmission from injection drug use accounted for 56% of many HIV cases in Puerto Rico. Now, it is currently just above 40%.
  • As of Sept. 2020, the number of people living with diagnosed HIV in Puerto Rico was 20,475.
  • 2 in 3 persons living with HIV are over the age of 50.
  • The prevalence of diagnosed HIV infections among males is 2.5 times higher than in females.
  • While the rate of HIV in Puerto Rico is 9%, many people in Puerto Rico are not aware of their status, and more than 3,000 people living with HIV are not in care — and thus not virally suppressed.

Since 2016, I have provided support and facilitated “Coalicion Cero VIH” meetings focused on being both proactive and responsive to disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the ongoing earthquakes, which deeply impact us still today.

This coalition emerged to foster unity and community mobilization among a network of community-based organizations and traditional AIDS services organizations, state clinical providers, private sector and local community leaders. We work to address any necessities to strengthen nongovernmental organizations in anticipation of drastic cuts to state budgets from Puerto Rico’s “Fiscal Oversight Board” and to be prepared for all negative impacts relating to health care.

AIDS United has always sought ways to support all the HIV-related work in Puerto Rico. In addition to grant-making, we work to develop the talent and opportunities for those willing to be meaningful involved in improving their health care and in their communities. I am a fierce advocate for language justice in all our work, stressing and persisting on having Spanish services at our events and in our material, publications and webinars.

There are two organizations that I work with in Puerto Rico that sit within our Public Policy Council, Intercambios Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Community Network for Clinical Services, Research, and Health Advancement (PRCONCRA), Inc. These organizations not only do fantastic work in Puerto Rico, but help to advocate for the needs of Latinx people.

We anticipate building upon the foundational work done in Puerto Rico over the past 18 months, As we move into 2021, we know that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue evolve — and that additional supports for all Hispanic/Latinx communities, especially those in Puerto Rico that are most affected by and vulnerable to HIV, will continue need our time and resources. We must ensure that these voices are centered in leading the charge around the care and services they receive.

I am the co-lead on our new Latinx People Organizing Positively program, which will convene Latinx leaders from the U.S. and Puerto Rico this month to discuss areas of focus and need. During the NYC MSM Health Forum, I will be a panelist to discuss the importance of U=U, especially in the Latinx communities.

I became an U=U Ambassador to educate my communities, providers, family, loved ones and friends of the importance of this message. It is a message of hope, love and intimacy, and internalizing this truth is uplifting to our self-esteem. We have the right to love without shame and stigma.