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Continuing to Address HIV/AIDS in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

The AAPI community faces unique challenges to improving health and access to care, and HIV/AIDS is an issue that affects the AAPI community in particular.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is the fastest growing racial group in the United States and faces unique challenges to improving health and accessing care. HIV/AIDS is an issue that affects the AAPI community in particular. HIV-related stigma that prevents those at risk from feeling safe, respected, and accepted has deterred AAPIs from HIV testing. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Asians and one-third of Pacific Islanders have never been tested for HIV.  For AAPIs who may want to be tested, culturally and linguistically relevant HIV services are not always available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) have the highest rates of undiagnosed HIV infections in the country (26.7% of NHPIs with HIV are undiagnosed), followed by Asians (22.7%). The CDC estimates that since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there have been more than 10,000 cumulative cases of HIV/AIDS in AAPI communities.  

Many important advances can reduce these health burdens in AAPI communities. One major example is the White House Office of National AIDS Policy’s recent release of an updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) that will continue to advance HIV/AIDS prevention efforts for the remainder of the decade. The 2010 NHAS marked a significant step forward in the nation’s fight to prevent the spread of HIV and to provide care and treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS. The updated NHAS continues to coordinate national HIV/AIDS prevention efforts and continues progress toward the four original goals of reducing new HIV infections, improving access to care and health outcomes, reducing HIV-related health disparities, and achieving a more coordinated national response. 

Throughout the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have sought parity, inclusion, and representation in the nation’s HIV/AIDS efforts. Often, AAPI data is not shown in tables, charts, and graphs that depict HIV/AIDS incidence and prevalence data. Or it is lumped into an “other” category with data from other groups.

That is why collecting HIV/AIDS data on AAPIs is so important. Under the 2010 NHAS, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted interviews with local and state health departments resulting in a report, Effective HIV Surveillance Among Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders. The report underscored the importance of collecting data on ethnic subgroups of AAPIs and provided best practices and recommendations. The updated NHAS builds upon these efforts by encouraging Federal, state, tribal, and local agencies to use data to apply high-impact prevention strategies for AAPI populations. It notes that “HIV prevention must continue to be supported in localities with concentrations of groups such as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and American Indian/Alaska Natives, and informed by the best available data.”

This updated NHAS provides an important opportunity for increased coordination among Federal agencies and partnership with state, tribal, and local governments as well as local communities. As we work together over the next five years on the NHAS goals, it is critical that we collectively ensure that no community is left behind or forgotten.


Michael Byun is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.