It was 11 years ago when Nancy Santiago learned she was HIV Positive. Santiago says she contracted it from a man she was in a long term relationship with who lied to her.
“I was very hurt,” she said. “It was somebody I trusted. I just didn’t think it would happen.”
Hurt and scared, Santiago admits she once attempted suicide. But the Philadelphia grandmother, who is now 55, overcame her pain and has now become the face of HIV for the city’s Latino community. Santiago is one of five local people being featured in POSITIVO, a new campaign focused on raising awareness on AIDS and HIV among the city’s Latino population.
“Locally, Latinos make up about 12 percent of the population yet are compromising upwards of 14 percent of HIV infection,” said Elicia Gonzalez, Executive Director of Galaei, the social justice organization who launched the campaign. “It seems to be that the number is steadily increasing.”
Studies done by the organization show many Latinos, particularly those in North Philadelphia, are not partial to HIV testing.
“Sending the message that you need to test yourself and that you can live a very fulfilling life even if you get HIV are important messages,” said Philly councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez.
As for Santiago, her personal goal is to encourage more Latinos to get tested and take better care of themselves.
“I don’t care who knows that I have it,” Santiago said. “I’m out there being the voice and the face of the Latino community."
If you’re interested in getting tested, stop by the Galaei headquarters at 12th and Chestnut Streets. It’s free, confidential and no appointment is necessary.