National Native American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is March 20. This day serves to raise awareness and encourage individuals to get tested or treated for HIV/AIDS.
Although Native Americans make up a small percentage of the United States' population, they are still a minority group that is affected by HIV/AIDS. The 2020 theme is “Resiliency + Action: Ending the HIV Epidemic in Native Communities.”
Why NNHAAD is important
This day is important because Native Americans and Alaskan Natives did not always have proper representation during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the early 1980s, no data was collected for Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. These communities were lumped in the category “Other” in AIDS surveillance data.
Apicha CHC wanted to change that. Newly formed in 1985, the organization’s first order of business was to advocate for the inclusion of APIs as a discrete population in HIV/AIDS surveillance data collection. Our founders reached out to their counterparts in the Native American communities. Together, they met in Washington, D.C. to advocate for the disaggregation of data for their respective communities.
This meeting resulted in two separate columns in the surveillance data: one for Asians and Pacific Islanders and another for American Indian/Native Hawaiians. This historic change meant visibility and access to HIV/AIDS services for the country’s two most marginalized population groups.
How HIV/AIDS affects Native Americans
- Of the 38,739 HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2017, 1% (212) were among American Indians/Alaska Natives.
- From 2010 to 2016, the annual number of HIV diagnoses increased 46% (from 157 to 230) among AI/AN overall and 81% (from 90 to 163) among AI/AN gay and bisexual men.
- An estimated 3,600 AI/AN had HIV in 2016 and 82% of them had received a diagnosis.
- Of AI/AN with HIV in 2015, 60% received HIV care, 43% were retained in care, and 48% had achieved viral suppression.
Challenges in HIV/AIDS prevention for Native Americans
While screening and treatment for HIV/AIDS is available, there are other obstacles for Native Americans that can make it challenging to stay healthy:
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). From 2013 to 2017, AI/AN had the second highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea among all racial/ethnic groups. Having another STD increases a person’s risk for getting or transmitting HIV.
- Awareness of HIV status. An estimated 8 in 10 AI/AN with HIV in 2016 had received a diagnosis. It is important for everyone to know their HIV status. People who do not know they have HIV cannot take advantage of HIV care and treatment and may unknowingly pass HIV to others.
- Cultural stigma and confidentiality concerns. AI/AN gay and bisexual men may face culturally based stigma and confidentiality concerns that could limit opportunities for education and HIV testing, especially among those who live in rural communities or on reservations.
- Cultural diversity. There are over 560 federally recognized AI/AN tribes, whose members speak over 170 languages. Because each tribe has its own culture, beliefs, and practices, creating culturally appropriate prevention programs for each group can be challenging.
- Socioeconomic issues. Poverty, including limited access to high-quality housing, directly and indirectly increases the risk for HIV infection and affects the health of people who have and are at risk for HIV infection. Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, AI/AN have higher poverty rates, have completed fewer years of education, are younger, are less likely to be employed, and have lower rates of health insurance coverage.
- Alcohol and illicit drug use. Alcohol and substance use can impair judgment and lead to behaviors that increase the risk of HIV. Injection drug use can directly increase the risk of HIV through sharing contaminated needles, syringes, and other equipment. Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, AI/AN tend to use alcohol and drugs at a younger age and use them more often and in higher quantities.
- Data limitations. Racial misidentification of AI/AN may lead to the undercounting of this population in HIV surveillance systems and may contribute to the underfunding of targeted services for AI/AN.
How Apicha CHC can help you
At Apicha CHC, we are very proud of our viral load suppression rate for all our patients, the number of our patients on PrEP, and the number of people we get tested.
Our healthcare providers are specialists in HIV prevention, treatment, and care. If you come for testing and remain for care at our community health center, you will receive consistent treatment from a healthcare provider who can attend to all of your health needs including HIV.