SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio is one of the top 10 cities in the nation with the highest growing number of people with HIV, which is why the federal government chose the city to receive a $200,000 grant to address the issue.
The HIV threat is primarily a problem among young Hispanic men.
“When I first got diagnosed, the news hit me like a ton of bricks,” said Mario Ojeda, an HIV advocate. “You know, nobody expects that.”
Ojeda was diagnosed with HIV when he was 23. He hadn't come out as a gay man to his family at the time.
Now 28, he has been able to turn his experience into a positive one, marching in the annual AIDS walk in the city.
Ojeda is part of the growing number of young Hispanic men with HIV in San Antonio. He believes this problem is because the disease and its risks are not talked about enough in the Hispanic culture.
“I definitely think it's a stigma,” Ojeda said. “Being Hispanic, it was tough for me. It was embarrassing. I didn't want to embarrass myself. I don't want to embarrass my family.”
The most recent data from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District states 6,000 people in San Antonio have HIV. Bexar County had 360 new HIV diagnoses in 2016. That’s the highest number in recent years and the highest number in Texas.
Cynthia Nelson, with the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, said Hispanic men ages 18 to 24 were the biggest part of the growing number of HIV diagnoses.
“It’s a contributing factor, young Latino males, as well as African-American males,” Nelson said. “It’s very difficult to either, you know, (be) accepted by their family or tell a partner.”
Nelson said the grant money will be distributed from University Health System to a handful of its providers in the city, including the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. She said she hopes the money can be used for more education.
It's education that Ojeda said he wishes he had when he was young.
“It's not the flu. It's not, you know, a cough. It's not going away. You get it and it's there for the rest of your life," Ojeda said.
A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey showed that San Antonio had a high rate of HIV transmission clusters, calling them hot spots for HIV transmission.
Out of the 16 clusters that the CDC found in the U.S., six were in San Antonio.