National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Is March 20
National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, observed every year on the Spring Equinox, aims to bring attention to HIV among American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians across the United States, to encourage them to get tested and become active in preventing and treating the disease.1
Although the number of American Indians and Alaska Natives (Native Americans) diagnosed with HIV is proportional to their population size, rates of HIV diagnoses in Native Americans have been increasing. From 2011 to 2015, HIV diagnoses increased 38% among Native Americans overall, and 54% among Native gay and bisexual men. Only 81% of Native Americans estimated to be living with HIV have been diagnosed, compared to 85% of the general population of people living with HIV (PLHIV).2,3 And they are less likely to be in care: 58% of Native Americans living with HIV are receiving some HIV care (vs. 63% of PLHIV in the general population); 45% are in continuous care (vs. 49%), and 47% are virally suppressed (vs. 51%).2,3
Native populations are at increased risk for HIV for a variety of reasons. Prevention programs can be difficult to create since there is great cultural diversity, with more than 560 federally recognized native tribes and 170 languages. American Indians and Alaskan Natives have the second highest rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea among all ethnic groups in the U.S., and these and other sexually transmitted infections increase the likelihood of HIV infection. Obstacles to mental health treatment and high rates of poverty and substance use also increase HIV risk and create barriers to care.1,2
And stigma, misinformation, and homophobia—especially in rural areas and on reservations—continue to fuel the epidemic.1,2 A recent article in the Herald Mail discusses how this plays out in rural areas of Oklahoma. Native Americans often seek medical care in Indian Health Service clinics and fear running into family and community members who work there; this discourages many from seeking HIV testing and treatment. Infectious disease specialists also often have to dispel myths among teenagers about sex, since the state is one of several that doesn’t mandate comprehensive sex education. Along with academic medical centers in these areas, the Indian Health Service National HIV/AIDS Program is working to address some of these problems.
For more information, see NNHAAD.org.
1U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, March 2018
2U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: HIV Among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, April 2018
3U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: HIV in the United States and Dependent Areas, January 2019