New York, NY--On National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (September 27), GMHC announces that the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted the agency $1.5 million over five years to expand testing, prevention and care services for Puerto Rican gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM). GMHC's new program is titled LINK II (Leaders in Networking and Knowledge) and will utilize three strategies to: effectively identify and serve Puerto Rican MSM who are at high risk of HIV infection or are infected with HIV but unaware of their HIV status; are aware of their HIV infection but have never accessed medical care; or who have dropped out of care. The following strategies are designed to provide this targeted population with HIV testing and counseling, link them to medical care, and help them remain engaged in medical care.
LINK II will enlist HIV-positive recruiters from the Puerto Rican MSM community to recruit their associates through social networks for HIV testing. This strategy has proven to effectively reach HIV-positive individuals in communities that are otherwise hard-to-reach.
To connect HIV-positive men to care, LINK II will employ a Linkage Navigation Specialist from this community to provide culturally-relevant materials and personally escort men to medical care for an initial visit.
To help these newly-diagnosed men remain engaged in medical care, GMHC will collaborate with Mount Sinai Hospital which offers an array of culturally-sensitive supportive services in a location that is known as being gay-friendly and sex-positive. The hospital services are offered by bilingual staff and include mental health counseling, support groups, transportation assistance, health insurance and benefits advocacy, and housing assistance.
Janet Weinberg, Chief Operating Officer/Interim CEO commented: "GMHC is known to the LGBT community as a place where individuals can receive exemplary services in a safe, non-judgmental, sex-positive and culturally-competent environment. This trust is key to GMHC's success in serving underserved and marginalized populations."
On a national level, Latino MSM account for nearly almost 1 in 4 new infections among gay and bisexual men of all races. The largest number of new infections among Hispanic/Latino MSM (39%) occurred in those aged 25 to 34. In New York City, 68% of Hispanic/Latino males diagnosed with HIV are MSM.
"As a leader in HIV prevention and LGBT health in New York City, Mount Sinai is proud to work tirelessly with GMHC in continuing to blend evidence-based and community-based interventions with advanced HIV care and prevention," said Demetre Daskalakis, MD, Medical Director of HIV Ambulatory Care Services at The Mount Sinai Hospital. "Our symbiotic partnership continues to create innovative opportunities to address the health disparities in highly impacted populations, such as the community of Puerto Rican MSM."
Numerous factors within the Latino MSM community significantly impact their ability to seek care such as homophobia, stigmatization of HIV and AIDS, high rates of poverty, immigration status, substance use, lack of bilingual HIV educational resources, as well as religious and cultural values in the Puerto Rican culture such as machismo and "respeto" (respect for the culture and family authority figures).
State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who represents the Western and Central Bronx noted, "I am very pleased that GMHC has been awarded the funds to expand their preventive and medical services for Latino gay and bisexual men. Their track record of working within the LGBT Latino community is well known, and I look forward to collaborating with them to ensure their continued success.
Assemblymember Francisco Moya of Queens, concurred, "This award will increase testing, prevention and care for communities that need services. LINK II will help us educate and protect gay and bisexual Latino men who have sex with men and will reduce the rates of infection."
Weinberg concluded: "We are tremendously grateful to HRSA for this grant. We look forward to working on this new program with Mount Sinai Hospital, as well as our elected officials and community partners, to greatly expand our ability to provide much-needed services to Puerto Rican MSM."