National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness DaySpring begins on March 20, heralding a time of beginnings and change. March 20, 2011 also marks the 5th annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This is a day for everyone to learn more about HIV and how the virus has affected native communities (Native Americans, Hawaiians and Alaskans).
HIV & Native Americans
Impact Compared to Other Ethnic Groups
Lack of HIV Testing in Native Communities
Native people are more likely to live in rural areas where HIV testing services are limited. Stigma about HIV and fear of seeing people they know from their close communities at local health care facilities may also stop people from getting tested. 6
Sexual Risk Factors
The presence of a sexually transmitted disease can increase the chance of contracting or spreading HIV if exposed. High rates of chlamydia trachomatis infection, gonorrhea, and syphilis among American Indians and Alaska Natives are contributing to the spread of HIV in this population.
Persons who use illicit drugs (casually or habitually) or who abuse alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In 2007, 32 percent of female American Indians and Alaska Natives living with HIV/AIDS in 34 states had become infected through injection drug use, a greater percentage than any other minority gender group.
To be effective, HIV/AIDS prevention programs must be tailored to specific audiences. The American Indian and Alaska Native population makes up 562 federally recognized tribes plus at least 50 state-recognized tribes. Because each tribe has its own culture, beliefs, and practices and these tribes may be subdivided into language groups, it can be challenging to create programs for each group. Therefore, prevention programs that can be adapted to individual tribal cultures and beliefs are critically important. Current programs emphasize traditional teachings and the importance of the community.
Issues related to poverty (for example, lower levels of education and poorer access to health care) may directly or indirectly increase the risk for HIV infection. Socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, coexist with epidemiologic risk factors for HIV infection in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Life expectancy for American Indians and Alaska Natives is shorter than that for persons of other races/ethnicities in the United States; the rates of many diseases, including diabetes, tuberculosis, and alcoholism, are higher; and access to health care is poorer.
These indicators demonstrate the vulnerability of American Indians and Alaska Natives to additional health stress, including HIV infection and why it is important to increase their participation in HIV vaccine trials. In order to have a vaccine that works for all peoples, including Native Americans, it is important to have their involvement in the research process.
For More Information
Visit the website of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center.