Prevention, Testing To Be Focus of Native American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
March 17, 2009 – HIV/AIDS affects a disproportionate number of Native Americans each year, many of whom do not have access to testing, treatment, and care services, according to organizers of the third annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which will be observed on March 20.
Although Native Americans represent only 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, they have the third highest rate of HIV/AIDS diagnosis, after African Americans and Hispanics. More than 60 percent of Native American men with HIV/AIDS were infected through male-to-male sexual contact; another 15 percent were infected through injection drug use. Native American women became infected with HIV at more than three times the rate of white women in 2006, with the majority – 68 percent – contracting the virus through heterosexual sex.
The CDC notes that due to racial misclassification and incomplete data, the number of Native Americans living with HIV may be higher than estimates indicate. National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day will provide a forum for advocates to raise awareness and promote efforts to halt the spread of the epidemic in native communities.
A number of factors contribute to increased risk for HIV infection among Native Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). High rates of sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis indicate that risky sexual behavior is widespread among native populations; these infections also increase susceptibility to HIV. Poverty, inadequate healthcare, and the use of alcohol and drugs also place Native Americans at risk for contracting the virus. In addition, limited access to HIV testing and concerns about confidentiality in the small rural communities where many Native Americans live have contributed to low rates of testing.
Community groups and national organizations will host a range of events across the country designed to raise awareness of the epidemic’s impact on native communities, promote testing, and encourage discussion of the factors that contribute to the spread of HIV among Native Americans.
“As our nation works to broaden access to health care, it is my hope that more native communities will gain access to testing and treatment facilities for HIV as well as other sexually transmitted infections that increase the risk of acquiring and spreading HIV and are highly prevalent among native peoples,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, in a statement.
For more information or to find an event in your area, please visit http://www.nnaapc.org/news/awareness-day.htm.