Washington, DC -- Join the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) in honoring National Native (American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian) HIV/AIDS Awareness Day this year. Held annually on March 20th, the day is organized by representatives from the Colorado State University's Commitment to Action for 7th-Generation Awareness & Education: HIV/AIDS Prevention Project, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center to encourage Native peoples and communities to "work together, in harmony, to create a greater awareness of the risk of HIV/AIDS to our Native communities, to call for resources for testing and early detection and for increased treatment options, and to eventually decrease the occurrence of HIV/AIDS among Native people."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native peoples have the highest rate of HIV infection after African Americans and Latinos, though they account for only 1% of the U.S. population. This is a disturbing in light of the disproportionately high rates of HIV co-morbidities, such as hepatitis C and tuberculosis, found in many American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.
"Stigma is one of the biggest hurdles to HIV prevention, treatment and care in Native communities," says Brenda Hunt, who is a member of the Lumbee Nation, serves on NMAC's Board, and is Executive Director of Borderbelt AIDS Resource (BART), in North Carolina. "Many of our people wait to get tested for HIV, and are diagnosed with both HIV and AIDS, or progress to AIDS shortly after their HIV diagnosis."
This trend has undermined health outcomes for Native people living with HIV, who, according to a 2008 report from the CDC, survive for a shorter period of time after being diagnosed with AIDS than Asians and Pacific Islanders, whites and Hispanics. Socio-economic determinants, including lack of access to quality, culturally-competent health care and education, as well as poverty and homelessness, further undermine the overall health and well-being of many Native communities.
Native gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) have been hit particularly hard by the AIDS epidemic, accounting for nearly 75% of all new HIV cases contracted through sexual contact and injection drug use among American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. These numbers are of particular concern following the March 10th release of the CDC data analysis showing a sharp disparity in rates of HIV and syphilis infection among MSMs relative to the rest of the U.S. population.
Paul Kawata, NMAC's Executive Director says, "National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day takes place at the start of spring, which symbolizes profound change, new beginnings and birth for many Native communities. I hope we all use this as a time to re-dedicate ourselves to helping to end HIV among American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, and within all communities of color."
For more information about National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, click here. Also, download the report, NOT ONE MORE: Recommendations to Improve HIV/AIDS Services to American Indians, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians.