Although Latinos account for more than 20 percent of the people with HIV in the U.S., less than half of them receive the treatment they need.

With the goal to encourage HIV-Positive Latinos to seek medical care, the Latino Commission on AIDS, a non-profit organization based in New York City, has created a workshop called Vida Positiva (Positive Life). The program, which opened less than two year ago, is the only Spanish-language workshop for HIV-Positive people in the city and is taught by instructors who also live with the virus.

Vida Positiva aims to break the stigma that Latin American communities associate with HIV. Shame and fear of discrimination are the main reasons why Latinos don’t seek treatment, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Danny Ochoa, a 28-year-old Colombian, has been the coordinator of Vida Positiva since 2015. Ochoa was diagnosed with HIV in 2012 and has been working since then to help HIV-Positive people.

“The workshop was very refreshing. It gave me some great insights into my own stigmas,” says Ernesto Hernandez, an immigrant from Mexico who was diagnosed with HIV two years ago. “Sure there is a lot of stigma from other people towards us, but the most dangerous stigma is from us towards us.”

The program also informs clients about the type of medications they need and provides emotional support by allowing them to meet other people who are in the same situation.

Interestingly, the number of HIV-Positive people who receive treatment in Latin America is also very low, according to a report released last year by United Nations AIDS. These statistics are particularly alarming considering that, after Africa, Latin America leads the world in number of people infected.

“People in Latin America somehow think that, because they are not gay or transgender, they are invulnerable to the virus, that is a very dangerous way of thinking,” said Luis Moreno Diaz, United Nations AIDS manager in Colombia.

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