It’s National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day!

Today, March 20th, marks the first day of spring. It is also National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. According to organizers,” This is a day to remember those who we have lost as a result of AIDS and to reignite our commitment to end the spread of this disease among native peoples.”

The task of combating HIV and AIDS in Native populations is a difficult one and it’s getting harder.

“People working to combat HIV in Indian Country are faced with a double whammy: infection rates are on the rise, but funding sources to fight the epidemic are drying up,” reports the Indian Country Today Media Network.

That’s in part to the Federal Government’s national HIV and AIDS strategy which is focusing on the nation’s highest HIV positive populated areas.

The problem with the strategy, according to Indian Country Today, is that means, “funds are being diverted away from rural and more sparsely populated areas. Those areas include most Indian nations, says Robert Foley, CEO of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center(NNAAPC), a Denver, Colorado-based nonprofit group.”

“State heath departments in Idaho. Wyoming, North Dakota and other states with large Native populations are now seeing 10-15 percent drops in HIV prevention budgets, with up to 33 percent projected,” Foley told the Website. “Organizations within those states will have decreased access to HIV prevention dollars.”

There’s also still a lot of stigma surrounding the virus.

Melvin Harrison, founding executive director of the Navajo AIDS Network, or NAN, tells the website, “the fact that people are still reluctant to talk about HIV and AIDS compounds the data collection problem: Nobody talks about HIV in the tribal government; it’s too complex,” he said. “There’s homophobia. There’s HIV phobia. There’s AIDS phobia. There’s transgender phobia. It’s really frustrating.”

According to the CDC,“The HIV epidemic is a serious health threat to Native communities. Although American Indians/Alaska Natives or AIs and ANs represent 1% of the U.S. population, they have historically suffered high rates of health disparities, including HIV and AIDS. Overall, approximately 20% of HIV-infected Americans do not know they are infected, while among AIs and ANs this figure is closer to 25%. AIs and ANs diagnosed with HIV infection or AIDS die sooner after their diagnosis than members of any other ethnic or racial group, suggesting that they may be diagnosed late in the course of their infection. This underscores the importance of educating AIs and ANs on the facts about HIV prevention and increasing access to basic health care services. ”

The National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day website reports that, “since the beginning of the epidemic through 2008, 3,629 American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have been diagnosed with AIDS. 1,847 AI/ANs with HIVand AIDS have passed away from the disease. In 2008, there were an estimated 2,306 AI/ANs living with HIV and AIDS – 1,650 men, 627 women and 29 children.”

Organizers behind the day say they,”encourage all Native communities to plan events to support HIV awareness. We need to continue to fight the stigma of this disease, encourage HIV testing, and raise the level of knowledge and awareness about HIV and AIDS. for more information, please visit www.aids.gov, or to find a testing center near you, visit www.hivtest.org.”

Here In Idaho, you can get a rapid oral HIV test at no charge through a.l.p.h.a. (Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS.).  The volunteer organization has offices located in Boise and Twin Falls, it also offers educational programs to equip individuals with the tools they need to help combat HIV, AIDS and other STIs in their communities.

You can also contact your local health department or visit the above websites to learn more.

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