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Health | Opinion
Kim Teehee: Facing HIV/AIDS in Indian Country together


"March 20, 2010 is the fourth annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It is a day to renew our commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS and to challenge the stigma surrounding the disease by increasing awareness of the risk factors for infection. I know that many people are uncomfortable talking about HIV and AIDS, but progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS depends on our knowing the basic facts about transmission as well as on increasing American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) access to HIV testing and comprehensive health services.

Even though AI/AN HIV/AIDS cases comprise less than 1 percent of total cases in the U.S., AI/AN communities are disproportionately impacted by the disease. American Indians and Alaska Natives have a 40% higher rate of AIDS than non-Hispanic white Americans, and the AIDS rate among Native women is 2.8 times that of non-Hispanic white women. AI/AN communities experience significant health disparities and face high rates of substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections, which increase the risk of HIV transmission. Additionally, many American Indians and Alaska Natives, like other Americans, do not know that they are infected and are therefore more likely to spread the disease. Together, we must continue to expand access to confidential testing in both urban and rural areas. As a Nation and within our Indian health system, our promotion of routine HIV screening combined with AI/AN community acceptance is helping to reduce stigma and confidentiality concerns.

To be effective, HIV/AIDS prevention programs must also be culturally sensitive. Current programs in Indian Country, therefore, are focusing on traditional teachings and the importance of community. The Phoenix Indian Medical Center, Gallup Indian Medical Center and Alaska Native Medical Center are just a few examples of comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs involving HIV prevention programs and treatment and care services. Smaller service units and urban facilities such as Pine Ridge, SD and South Dakota Urban Indian Health are also expanding HIV testing services and experiencing positive community acceptance - a much needed effect to help reduce stigma surrounding HIV. "

Get the Story:
Kim Teehee: Together We Must Face the Challenge of HIV/AIDS in Native American Communities (White House 3/19)

Related Stories:
Jack Jackson: Marking Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (3/19)
Quechan Nation observes Native HIV/AIDS Awareness (3/18)
IHS Director: National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness (3/19)
Quechan Nation raises HIV/AIDS awareness (3/13)