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Free AIDS testing in Jax Hts. gets big response

The trucks parked around the subway stations on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights and Corona usually offer commuters and workers a cheap meal, but last Thursday the white-painted vans set up every few blocks provided Latinos in the neighborhoods a chance to learn about HIV and AIDS.

The free, anonymous HIV/AIDS testing was a collaborative effort between state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and a number of citywide and borough groups, including Queens Pride House, Elmhurst Hospital, Queens HIV Care Network and Positive Life. It marked the seventh-annual National Latino AIDS Awareness Day.

Peralta said the objective of the project was to reach out to immigrant populations living along the No. 7 train.

“They’re afraid. They don’t know what to expect,” Peralta said.

Peralta said the Catholic Church’s discouragement of the use of contraception likely contributes to higher HIV rates among Latinos, who in 2007 made up 15.3 percent of the population of the United States but comprised 19 percent of Americans with HIV or AIDS, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

In Queens in 2007, the largest number of immigrants newly diagnosed with HIV came from Mexico, then Colombia, then Haiti.

“It plays a huge role,” he said of the lack of contraception, but noted other factors are also at play. “There is a lack of information about what’s good and what’s bad.”

Peralta was joined in Jackson Heights by a number of activists hoping to raise awareness of the need for HIV testing.

“There are resources for undocumenteds living with HIV,” said Rosa Bramble Weed, executive director of Positive Life. “There is no reason now for people not to feel like they can get the help they need.”

It would appear that fear did not keep patients away from the HIV vans last week. Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. the van at 75th Street tested 60 people, a smashing success according to HIV counselor Carlos Checas.

“I would never expect to have 60 people tested in here on a rainy day like this,” he said, noting the number of people he tested over an entire day at sunny Orchard Beach recently was 100.

“From what I see, they’re very open to being tested,” he said, noting there is still “a lot of fear that they will be reported to immigration.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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