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MAP for Health and The Banyan Tree Project Announce May 19, 2005 "First Annual Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day"

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Local Reception to Launch National Initiative to Foster Acceptance & Compassion in Asian & Pacific Islander Communities

(Boston, MA) – May 3, 2005 -- Massachusetts Asian & Pacific Islanders (MAP) for Health, on behalf of The Banyan Tree Project, has claimed May 19, 2005 as the first-ever, national Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. To commemorate this historic event, which is officially recognized by US Department of Health & Human Services, MAP for Health will hold a press conference on May 19th at 11:00 am at South Cove Community Health Center’s conference room, 145 South Street in Boston. A special community reception will follow on May 20th at the Marriott Courtyard Boston Tremont Hotel, 275 Tremont Street from 6-8 PM. The free reception is open to the public and the media, and will feature a 6:45 PM awards and media presentation. Awards will be presented to Esther H.P.Yee, RN of South Cove Community Health Center and Representative Peter Koutoujian, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care. Similar launch events will be held in five other cities around the United States, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, and Honolulu. The month of May is also Asian & Pacific American Heritage Month, and May 19th serves to underscore the importance of HIV health issues.

The Banyan Tree Project is a groundbreaking national campaign to foster acceptance and compassion towards those at risk or infected with HIV/AIDS in Asian and Pacific Islander (A&PI) communities. By informing, teaching, and setting a positive example, the Project’s members hope to stop the cycle of discrimination and silence, and eliminate barriers that delay or prevent access to HIV prevention and care services.

According to MAP for Health Executive Director Jacob Smith Yang, sometimes traditional A&PI cultural values and taboos work to silence topics such as sexuality and safer sex in A&PI populations. This makes it particularly difficult to overcome the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Yang states, “Our communities have such strong stigma around sexuality that many of our Asian and Pacific Islander languages either lack—or only have derogatory or impolite terms—for concepts like ‘sex,’ ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ and even the human reproductive body parts. Subtle cultural messages like this inform one’s self-worth and ability to hear sexual health messages, often having lasting negative effects on decisions made around safer sex and behavior change.”

The fact that the A&PI population is one of the fastest-growing in the United States makes the need for public awareness even more urgent. The first annual Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a crucial step in focusing attention on an emerging concern affecting A&PIs in this country.

“A&PIs are often mistakenly regarded as a ‘model minority’ and a community not impacted by HIV/AIDS—both stereotypes that perpetuate poor access to healthcare and disturbing health disparities” continued Yang. “Among all racial groups, A&PIs with HIV have the highest rates of delaying finding out that they are HIV positive until they are very sick, meaning they will not have the same good health outcomes as those who find out and get treatment early.”

While the number of reported AIDS cases among A&PIs remains relatively small as compared to other populations, underreporting and misclassification hides the true impact of the epidemic on this group. HIV data from years 2000 to 2003 indicates a 54% increase in AIDS diagnosis among A&PIs in the US. In addition, a strongly-entrenched cycle of cultural shame and stigma surrounding issues of sexuality, disease and acceptable behavior continues to thwart access to HIV prevention and care.

“The Project’s banyan tree symbol is a shared and revered image across many A&PI cultures,” said Yang. “The tree’s branches continually shoot out new roots into the ground, corresponding to the Project’s tagline: “Rooted in Acceptance.” It is also a tree under which the Buddha is said to have meditated. It is in this way we hope that A&PI communities across the U.S. gain awareness and understanding around HIV/AIDS.” (High-res images of the BTP and MAP for Health logos are available upon request.)

While Banyan Tree Project organizers recognize that minimizing HIV stigma will be a challenge, they are also optimistic that this is a first step in the right direction. Yang states, “Our hope is to change behavior and attitudes within the community, which means emphasizing compassion and understanding. But the first step towards solving a problem is to become aware and acknowledge it even exists.”

For more information on the May 19th reception or to RSVP by May 16th, contact Dimple Rana at (617) 426-6755 x214 or drana@mapforhealth.org.

About MAP for Health: Massachusetts Asian & Pacific Islanders (MAP) for Health is a Boston-based, non-profit, community-based organization that promotes health, HIV and sexuality awareness, and access to care, through community-building, education, advocacy and technical assistance. Founded in 1993, MAP for Health offers free and confidential HIV-related services for A&PI community members; these include individual and group HIV education sessions, anonymous HIV counseling and testing, and supported referrals. For more information on MAP for Health and the Banyan Tree Project, go to www.mapforhealth.org and www.banyantreeproject.org.

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