How to improve the health of undocumented Latino immigrants with HIV in New Orleans: an agenda for action


Mejorar la salud de los inmigrantes indocumentados de origen latinoamericano con VIH en Nueva Orleans: un plan de acción



Marco RuizI; Carlo Sebastian Briones-ChavezII

ILouisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans, Department of Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine. Send correspondence to: Marco Ruiz, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans, Department of Medicine, Section of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine, 136 South Roman, Second Floor, New Orleans LA 70112, United States; e-mail:
IIUniversidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Department of Medicine, Lima, Peru




Latino communities continue to grow in the United States. These communities are significantly affected by HIV infection. New Orleans is a city whose demographics have changed since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as numerous Latinos/Hispanics came to the city to help rebuild it. This population might have a higher risk of HIV acquisition and problems with access to health care. Data on HIV infection in these populations are insufficient. Active community participation and commitment of key stakeholders are important for developing strategies to bring about change. Political and social support is also a major determinant of any potential change. The following were common ground points after meetings with key stakeholders: (1) to analyze and diagnose health situations in documented and undocumented communities with HIV/AIDS in the city of New Orleans; (2) to develop partnerships and networks among stakeholders with a significant presence in Latino/Hispanic communities in the city; (3) to strengthen research in Latino/Hispanic community issues among research centers, academicians, and health care services; (4) to investigate the development of prevention strategies and technical innovations; (5) to advocate strategies to improve health care access among documented and undocumented immigrants. This project will report additional findings soon.

Key words: illegal immigration; HIV infections; Hispanic Americans; delivery of health care; United States of America.


La infección por el VIH afecta significativamente a las comunidades de origen latinoamericano, que siguen creciendo en los Estados Unidos. En Nueva Orleans, después del Huracán Katrina en 2005, muchas personas latinas vinieron a la ciudad para ayudar a reconstruirla; aunque no hay datos suficientes, es probable que esta población tenga un riesgo mayor de infección por el VIH, así como problemas de acceso a los servicios de salud. Para elaborar estrategias que propicien el cambio, es esencial la participación comunitaria, el compromiso activo de los interesados directos y el apoyo político y social; algunos puntos de convergencia para un plan de acción son los siguientes: 1) analizar y diagnosticar la situación de salud en comunidades con VIH/sida en la ciudad de Nueva Orleans; 2) establecer alianzas y redes entre los interesados directos con una presencia significativa en las comunidades latinas en la ciudad; 3) fortalecer la investigación en los problemas de la comunidad latina entre los centros de investigación, los académicos y los servicios de atención de salud; 4) investigar el desarrollo de estrategias de prevención e innovaciones técnicas; 5) promover estrategias para mejorar el acceso a la atención de salud entre inmigrantes documentados y no documentados.

Palabras clave: inmigración ilegal; infecciones por VIH; prestación de atención de salud; Estados Unidos.



Latino communities continue to grow in the United States (1, 2). These communities are also significantly affected by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection (1). New Orleans is a city whose demographics have changed since Hurricane Katrina in 2005; numerous Latinos/Hispanics came to the city to help with the rebuilding efforts. Now, the number of Latinos in New Orleans is increasing exponentially, and among this population the group of undocumented immigrants might be a majority (2). This report briefly explores the problem of HIV/AIDS diagnosis in undocumented Latino immigrants as well as resources potentially available for undocumented Latino immigrants and their potential utility, and it recommends an agenda for action in order to improve HIV prevention among undocumented workers in New Orleans.

The city of New Orleans ranked second in the rate of AIDS cases among the largest metropolitan areas in the United States in 2007 (3). In Louisiana, this disease continues to affect mainly African Americans. Of the cumulative cases, 4% of Hispanics (261 men and 62 women) live with HIV/AIDS in New Orleans. Around 67 (6%) new HIV/AIDS cases were reported in Hispanics in Louisiana in 2009 (3, 4). Most documented and undocumented immigrants in New Orleans are from Honduras (3, 4).

Latinos are more likely than other ethnic groups to delay care after receiving a diagnosis of HIV (2). Even though Latinos represent a small proportion of the current HIV-infected population in New Orleans, they are the most rapidly growing minority, mainly due to migration patterns, and have particular risks, such as poor education, lack of access to health care, poverty, migration status, and lack of acculturation to American culture that put them at higher risk for HIV/AIDS.



A main limitation in HIV/AIDS-prevention strategies among Latinos has been the "one-size-fits-all" approach. All Latinos do not have the same country of origin, cultural aspects, language proficiency, and acculturation; therefore, prevention strategies that ignore these differences are likely to be unsuccessful. This pitfall was studied by Uribe et al. (5) in an effort to identify strategies for HIV/AIDS prevention among different Hispanic groups in Florida. They found different and sometimes opposing characteristics among Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American, South American, and Caribbean immigrants in Florida. These differences might partially explain the failure of certain strategies using the one-size-fits-all approach (5). In New Orleans, most Latinos come from Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), and recently some come from Mexico.

The areas in the proposed agenda include health promotion and education, outreach community campaigns and programs, and Latino/Hispanic research issues.



Vissman et al. (6) described a lay health advisor intervention known as navegantes (navigators). A total of 9 navegantes were interviewed. Their mean age was 39 years; 6 of them were from Mexico and 3 were from El Salvador. The interviewees provided important information on the sociocultural and psychological influences on HIV risk. The authors demonstrated that this strategy might be feasible in Latino communities (from El Salvador) and Mexico and might help in acquiring better knowledge about HIV risk factors and prevention.



Impact of mobile clinics

Development of mobile clinics is one strategy for bringing health care services to undocumented populations. Diaz-Perez et al. (7) studied the impact of mobile clinics on health care prevention among Mexican communities in Colorado. Around 1 553 Mexican immigrants were seen in one of these mobile clinics in the first 6 months of functioning. Hypertension and psychosocial problems were the most common issues in these communities. This form of outreach program seems to be effective in uncovering mental and medical problems and might be used in HIV-prevention programs among Mexican immigrants.

Importance of culturally sensitive interventions

A main hurdle to the success of preventive strategies is the lack of culturally sensitive interventions (in this case, health care staff with an understanding of Latino culture). However, successful models have been developed. Blewett et al. (8) acknowledged the importance of cultural sensitivity in formulating effective preventive strategies and recommended developing a rural safety net support system that might be able to fund health interventions for Latino immigrants in rural areas. As suggested by some authors, bilingual staff, free or partially free health care, adequate hours (including evening hours), an understanding of the Latino culture, and Spanish-speaking providers are key elements in culturally adequate interventions among Latinos (9, 10).

Role of Catholic church

Churches can be important places for health education and health promotion. Religious beliefs have a significant impact on Latino/Hispanic communities. The strong ties between the Catholic religion and the Hispanic community could be an excellent impetus for HIV/AIDS health education and health promotion. As English courses run by urban churches often garner strong community attendance because they are free, the same venue and time could be used to deliver health education messages from clergy and members of the Latino community.

Volunteer organizations

Volunteer organizations (Common Ground Health Clinic in New Orleans) could work in conjunction with Latino communities in building trust and serving as liaisons between health care services and communities. They could also be a forum for training bilingual staff and serve as potential research centers focused on Latino health issues.

Latino/Hispanic supermarkets

Latino supermarkets (tiendas) are excellent venues for documented and undocumented immigrants to learn relevant information. In such a location, posters would be an effective and inexpensive means of disseminating information on health education, mobile clinics, and access to health care. Tiendas may also prove helpful with the acculturation process to a certain extent.

Potential role of telemedicine and social Internet networks

Telemedicine services have been established with success in different parts of the world. In the United States, they have proven to be more cost-effective than face-to-face consultations when the number of patients and sites benefited are high. Conversely, De la Torre et al. (9) found that the cost-effectiveness of this intervention might not be adequate if the service is under-utilized. The success of online social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook in promoting health education among the masses has been demonstrated, and numerous websites have been developed to deliver health care messages (9).

Acculturation center and Hispanic/Latino communities

Various studies have shown the level of acculturation to be inversely proportional to the level of risk for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. More acculturation (in this study, defined as the exchange of cultural values) with the host culture means less risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (9, 10). The creation of acculturation centers would thus have a major impact on health care education and HIV/AIDS prevention strategies in Latino communities (9).



In a review article, Pemberton et al. (10) describe the modelo de intervención psicomédica (pschyomedical interventional model) developed by Robles and colleagues. This intervention engaged intravenous drug users in drug treatment and health care and enhanced self-efficacy to reduce injection-related HIV risk behaviors. In further studies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested increasing the applicability of this intervention to other Latino groups. This intervention is a good example of translational research among Latino communities. Further projects and interventions based on this model might be worth trying in Hispanic communities in New Orleans.

Table 1 summarizes the objectives, strategies and methods, rationales, and evaluations for a proposed agenda for action in order to improve the care of undocumented HIV/AIDS Latino patients. The main actors in this agenda are local and national Hispanic organizations, interested members of academia, political authorities in New Orleans, nongovernment organizations, City Council of New Orleans, public and private health care organizations, and the Catholic church. Legal authority comes from the political authorities of New Orleans, state government, and federal government. Resources (human, financial, and others) may come from local, state, and national grants; private donors; and local and federal government.

In conclusion, strategies for educating the Latino community on HIV/AIDS prevention need to be revised. Culturally sensitive interventions targeted to specific Latino groups may help in achieving better results in preventing HIV/AIDS.

Areas such as needs assessment, community-based interventions, and networking among community organizations, volunteer organizations, and health service centers are also extremely important. An agenda for action is suggested in this revision.

Finally, broad changes in health and immigration policies are needed if we plan to take care of the ever-changing city of New Orleans. The wellbeing of documented and undocumented immigrants may have a significant impact on that of the whole community if necessary steps are taken; conversely, insufficient acknowledgment of the current situation may contribute to increased HIV/AIDS cases in this community.



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2. Ayala G, Chion M, Diaz RM, Heckert AL, Nuno M, Del Pino HE, et al. Acción mutua (shared action): a multipronged approach to delivering capacity-building assistance to agencies serving Latino communities in the United States. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2007;Jan Suppl: S33-9.         

3. Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Office of Public Health HIV/AIDS Surveillance. Louisiana HIV/AIDS Surveillance Quarterly Report. 2009;7(3).         

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5. Uribe C, Darrow WW, Villanueva LP, Obiaja KC, Sanchez-Brana E, Gladwin AH. Identifying HIV risk-reduction strategies for Hispanic populations in Broward County. AIDS Educ Prev. 2009;19(8):568-74.         

6. Vissman AT, Eng E, Aronson RE, Bloom FR, Leichliter JS, Montano J, et al. What do men who serve as lay health advisers really do? Immigrant Latino men share their experiences as Navegantes to prevent HIV. AIDS Educ Prev. 2009;3:220-32.         

7. Diaz-Perez MJ, Farley T, Cabanis CM. A program to improve access to health care among Mexican immigrants in rural Colorado. J Rural Health. 2004;20(3):258-64.         

8. Blewett L, Casey M, Thiede K. Improving access to primary care for a growing Latino population: the role of safety net providers in the rural Midwest. J Rural Health. 2004;20(3):237-45.         

9. De la Torre A, Hernandez-Rodriguez C, Garcia L. Cost analysis in telemedicine: empirical evidence from sites in Arizona. J Rural Health. 2004;20(3):253-57.         

10. Pemberton G, Andia J, Robles R, Collins C, Colon-Cartagena N, Perez del Pilar O, et al. From research to community-based practice-working with Latino researchers to translate and diffuse a culturally relevant evidence-based intervention: The Modelo de Intervencion Psicomedica (MIP) experience. AIDS Educ Prev. 2009;21(SupplB):171-85.         



Manuscript received on 21 February 2010.
Revised version accepted for publication on 28 June 2010.

Organización Panamericana de la Salud Washington - Washington - United States