Parent-Child Talks Combat Youth HIV, Professor Says

Silver Professor Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos speaks about his work with HIV prevention in Latino and African-American adolescent populations.

Guilamo-Ramos and his team at the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health discuss the Families Talking Together Program. (Courtesy of Dr. Vincent Guilamo Ramos)

Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos first saw Manhattan through the windows of a yellow school bus.

“The classic school trip was to go to the Museum of Natural History,” Guilamo-Ramos said. “As the bus came into Manhattan and we drove around Central Park and Sixth Avenue, even the place where NYU is located, I remember thinking how different it all looked compared to where I grew up.” 

Originally from the Bronx, Guilamo-Ramos’ research and work at NYU is heavily influenced by where he grew up. Guilamo-Ramos is currently NYU’s Associate Vice Provost of Mentoring and Outreach Programs and the founder of The Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the Silver School of Social Work. 

“The Bronx has always been, both personally and professionally, very important to me,” Guilamo-Ramos said. “I think it represents a lot of the contemporary social problems that are facing disadvantaged communities in the United States today.” 

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Guilamo-Ramos published an article in The Lancet: HIV on Feb. 27 titled “Youth at risk of HIV: the overlooked US HIV prevention crisis,” which analyzes the ways in which new practices and policy changes can address the growing number of HIV cases in racial and ethnic minority adolescents, despite an overall national decline in reported cases. 

Guilamo-Ramos calls this rise in minority youth cases an “invisible epidemic” in the U.S. today. The Trump administration recently announced a plan to eradicate HIV by targeting counties with high numbers of new diagnoses and rural areas with high rates of the disease. However, Guilamo-Ramos feels like these initiatives fail to take into consideration the increase in HIV cases in Latino and African-American adolescent males. Throughout the interview, Guilamo-Ramos used “Latino” as a gender-neutral term.

Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 63 percent of new HIV diagnoses and new diagnoses among Hispanic/Latino men increased by 17 percent between 2012 and 2016. Only half of HIV positive youth are aware of their status and many are not able to access lifesaving treatments.

“When you look at the data with a particular angle just on youths, and you separate out 13-24- year-olds, what you see is that young people are not doing as well and that they’re really struggling in terms of testing and linkage to care,” Guilamo-Ramos said. 

Guilamo-Ramos has developed programs like Families Talking Together, which encourages Latino and African-American parents or guardians to talk to their teenagers about sex. This initiative takes a different approach to sex education, focusing on the role of the family in shaping teenagers’ decisions about sex. Currently, the center also evaluates the impact of Fathers Raising Responsible Men, another family-based intervention created by Guilamo-Ramos and his team. 

“We’re really trying to involve Latino and black fathers of adolescent males [in these conversations] because a lot of these sexual reproductive health issues tend to be framed as being about young women, and truthfully it’s about mothers and fathers and boys and girls,” Guilamo-Ramos said.

President of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network Guillermo Chacón spoke about how Guilamo-Ramos’ work in HIV prevention has been guiding prevention programming at Oasis, a Latino LGBTQ wellness center located in Manhattan, which predominantly supports non-heterosexual Latino men, trans Latina women and young adults. 

“Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos is a brilliant leader and community-focused researcher who we are privileged to say is part of the Latino Commission’s Board of Directors,” Chacón said in a statement to WSN. “His work around the issues impacting minority communities, youth and younger adults and LGBTQ communities have guided the community prevention programming at the Latino Commission on AIDS.”

Guilamo-Ramos first began to focus on HIV prevention after receiving his Master of Social Work from Silver. He decided to focus on adolescent sexual reproductive health, specifically HIV research because of how it’s spreading in poor, Latino and African-American communities. 

“It’s [spreading] in the most vulnerable people in our society, who have been told over and over again that they are at the margins of society,” Guilamo-Ramos said. “All of these things spoke to me. It spoke to the young person in the Bronx who felt left out.” 

For Guilamo-Ramos, being able to pursue a career in social work was a way for him to change his circumstances. 

“I still go back to some of the places that I have lived in the Bronx and can sort of imagine what my life would’ve been like if I hadn’t been able to pursue my studies,” Guilamo-Ramos said. 

Guilamo-Ramos decided to commit his time to supporting adolescents in their family context in resource-limited and disadvantaged settings. He founded the Center for Latino Adolescent Family Health in 2010, which seeks to investigate the role of Latino parents in shaping the overall wellbeing of adolescents. 

“Even if [their] circumstances were presumably very negative, it [has] still been amazing to me to see how much young people benefit from having that strong relationship and that open communication with their adult primary caregiver,” Guilamo-Ramos said. 

He hopes that one day, his work at CLAFH will help create a national initiative that gets families talking about these issues. 

“We spend so much time debating whether or not we should have an abstinence-only approach or a sex-comprehensive approach,” Guilamo-Ramos said. “I think for me, the way forward is to bring all these sides to the table and really have a national initiative that supports parents and families to be partners in addressing these issues.”  

When considering what can be done on a national level to help combat the rise in cases among adolescents, Guilamo-Ramos believes it’s important to use a direct approach. In his mind, a national campaign which provides parents with concrete resources and tools about how to navigate their adolescents’ sexual reproductive help would be ideal. 

“If those resources could in some way be part of what we’ve developed with the folks that work in this area, I’d feel ready to retire,” Guilamo-Ramos said. 

While he waits for that day to come, Guilamo-Ramos is glad to be working in the city he saw from that school bus as a kid. 

“If you think about New York City, it has an incredibly diverse Latino community, with one-third of the population being Latino,” Guilamo-Ramos said. “That’s why New York is so important, and being here at NYU and in the city with this amazing Latino community is what makes my work so meaningful.” 

Email Mansee Khurana at [email protected]

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