Post by Erica Oakley, Humanitas Global Development
Today, March 20, a little-known observance day is being celebrated in communities across the U.S.: National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NNHAAD). NNHAAD is a day for drawing attention to and building support for HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care among American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian populations.
The first day of spring - the date selected to observe NNHAAD - was carefully chosen and is symbolic of the belief for many that the first day of spring brings forth a season of new beginnings and change.
With the observance of NNHAAD, we would like to highlight and draw attention to a few rates and statistics on HIV/AIDS in Native communities according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- Among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), women account for 29% of the HIV/AIDS diagnoses.
- For Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NH/PI) populations given a diagnosis, 78% were men, 21% were women, and 1% were children (under 13 years of age) in 2005.
- From 2007 to 2010, new HIV infections among AI/NA populations increased by 8.7% (CDC).
While these percentages may seem low, one must remember to take into account the size of these populations compared to more populous races and ethnicities in the U.S. For example, according to the CDC, in 2005 American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked 3rd in rates of HIV/AIDS diagnosis, following blacks and Hispanics. To put this into numbers, the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections in 2008 per 100,000 persons were:
- 73.7 Black/African American
- 25.0 Hispanic/Latinos
- 22.85 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders
- 11.9 American Indian and Alaska Native
- 8.2 Whites
- 7.2 Asians
Given that many of these populations live in rural areas, access to health care services can be difficult. Not to mention other roadblocks to obtaining needed services such as language and cultural barriers. Native communities have some of the shortest survival times after diagnosis of HIV/AIDS of all race and ethnicty groups in the U.S.
According to Robert Foley, President/CEO of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, the recently released CDC supplemental surveillance report of HIV in the U.S. shows that within Native communities "there needs to be persistent efforts to combat community-based stigma caused by fear, misinformation, and discrimination. These continue to serve as barriers to people who know they need to access care, but are fearful of the social ramifications of doing so."
The report also revealed that Native communities are not accessing the needed care and attention following a HIV diagnosis:
- Only 75% of AI/AN individuals (13 years or older) that tested positive for HIV during 2010 were linked to medical care within 3 months after their diagnosis.
- Only 33% of AI/AN and 44% of Native Hawaiian individuals (13 years or older) that were diagnosed with HIV in 2008 had achieved viral suppression by the end of 2009. These are the 3rd and 4th lowest rates when compared to other races/ethnicities (CDC).
There are several organizations working hard to address these barriers - and many more - within Native communities, such as: Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center, CA7AE: HIV/AIDS Prevention Project, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., and National Native American AIDS Prevention Center - to name a few.
As we are reminded of the work that still needs to be done and barriers which still need to be broken, let us applaud all of the organizations which are working hard to do this and bring forth a new spring among Native communities.