It is one of the most serious and dangerous diseases of the 21st Century. For the time being there is no cure, although there is a treatment that makes life easier for the victims. AIDS affects thousands of people every year, including the Latin American community resident in the United Kingdom.
Felipe, a 25-year0old Colombian, arrived in London in 2003. He left his country of birth to make a new life in the UK. From the beginning he liked the city, its lifestyle and the liberty that resonated in its streets.
His homosexuality was not seen as an illness. Here he was just another resident.
Like everyone else, he was looking for love. “I was looking for a rich boyfriend”, but his dreams were shattered momentarily when he was diagnosed, a year after his arrival, with AIDS and today he forms part of the 100,000 people who suffer from the illness in the United Kingdom.
According to a study by the Health Protection Agency, 6% of those infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in Britain are of South American origin.
The report states that Lambeth and Southwark, two of the London boroughs with a significant presence of Latin Americans, are the areas where most cases of HIV were diagnosed in 2009 – 14% and 10% respectively.
Many of the immigrants affected by the epidemic, which interferes with the immune system, seek help and advice from the non-government organisation, Naz Project London.
According to the co-ordinator of the Latin American unit, Carlos Corredor, the organisation is currently dealing with some 300 Spanish speakers.
“We are going to reach out to them because immigrants are vulnerable and are afraid of asking for help. Everything that appears official is avoided”, Corredor told The Prisma.
However, it is recognised that more and more people are turning to Naz Latina to ask for information and support for their needs.
“Owing to the arrival of immigrants from Spain, we have more people coming forward. As our services are in Spanish, it is an incentive for them to come. Besides, the organisation is well-known within the Spanish-speaking community.”
But now the struggle against HIV that Naz Project London initiated will become even more evident at the end of April.
The foundation has planned a tour of all the Latin American organisations in London to carry out HIV tests on site to be able to detect the disease in its early stages.
Are there a high number of Latin Americans affected by AIDS?
Yes. I think that many Latin Americans when they arrive in London “break loose”, they live for the night life. This is because in Latin America homosexuality is still a taboo subject. The culture restricts people’s sexuality a great deal.
Here, in the British capital, where sexual freedom attains its highest splendour, it means that many men and women forget the hidden dangers behind sexual encounters. They get carried away by the euphoria of their bodies and if we add the alcohol, the drugs and the type of parties that there are in the city…
The people arriving from Latin America and the Caribbean are in greater danger through lack of information about HIV. Many do not know that the tests to detect the disease are free here.
In Colombia the test can amount to more than half the minimum wage. Many immigrants are not prepared, with the high cost of living in Great Britain, to lose part of their salary.
On the other hand, I do not believe it is down to a lack of education. Everyone knows what AIDS is, how it is transmitted, how it can be avoided. In spite of this, many run the risk of having unsafe sex.
We provide information to sex workers in order to prevent the spread of the disease. What happens is that many clients offer them more money for having sex without protection, and to accept is a mistake. Every person who is sexually active runs the risk of becoming infected. Many Latin Americans believe that meeting people and having sex gains them a better social standing.
Have the government’s austerity policies prejudiced the fight against HIV?
For the time being, no. Since October of last year the treatment of victims has been free. It is an area of health that has not been restricted for immigrants. It does not matter what your migratory status is, the length of time you have been living here nor the country you come from.
It is a measure that the authorities have been contemplating for a long time, but it would be a discriminatory act. In this country there are prominent pressure groups that are fighting to avoid the adoption of immigration policies with these characteristics. We believe and we maintain that health treatment should be free because access to health is a universal right and that every person who cannot be treated is condemned to die in a terrible manner, in conditions worse than torture.
We have always recommended that there should be health professionals who speak the language of the patient. People who have a problem feel intimidated explaining their symptoms in front of an interpreter, since we are dealing with matters that are intimate.
The response of the government has always been that we are in the United Kingdom and that everyone living here should speak English. Our response is that they are right. We are in Britain, but the reality is different and many residents do not know the language.
(Translated by Martin Relph – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)