National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NNHAAD) will be observed in Minnesota and across the nation on Wednesday, March 20. The goal of the day is to raise awareness about the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and to honor those who are infected or affected or who have died due to the disease.
“HIV/AIDS continues to be an important health issue for our American Indian communities living in Minnesota,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. “We want to use this observance to call attention to the number of cases and let people know what they can do to protect themselves and others from this disease.”
HIV incidence has continued to increase among Native communities over the past decade. According to recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Native communities currently have the fourth highest rate of new HIV infections in the U.S. Through 2009, 3,702 American Indians have been diagnosed with AIDS and an estimated 2,387 are living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), 221 cases of HIV infection have been reported among American Indians since the beginning of the epidemic and 96 of them have died in the state. As of 2011, there are 121 American Indians living with HIV in Minnesota. Seventy of the living cases are males and 51 cases are females.
“We know we can lower infection rates through prevention, early detection and getting persons into care if infected,” said Ehlinger. “We need to ensure that these types of services are available and culturally accessible to communities that are dealing with a number of socioeconomic disadvantages.”
American Indians have historically experienced higher rates of diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Factors contributing to higher disease occurrence and lower life expectancy among American Indians include disproportionate rates of poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, limited access to quality health education, cultural differences and social stigma.
“One of the first steps to reduce the spread of HIV is to get tested,” said Ehlinger. “And, one of the ways to get tested is to go to your health care provider or get connected with some of the programs and events our department supports.”
For this year’s NNHAAD observance, the Indigenous Peoples Task Force will team up with the Indian Health Board to provide free health screenings for HIV, hepatitis C, blood pressure, blood sugar and other health checks for walk-ins. The event will include speakers, games, youth performances, prizes and refreshments. The event will take place on Wednesday, March 20th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the All Nations Indian Church, 1515 East 23rd Street, Minneapolis.
The STD and HIV Section and the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health at MDH currently fund 27 community-based programs aimed at preventing the spread of HIV and/or providing testing in adults and young people of all races.
Health officials noted that the most effective means of stopping the spread is to know your HIV status, avoid or delay sexual activity, decrease the number of sexual partners, always use latex condoms during sex, avoid sharing of needles or equipment to tattoo, body pierce or inject drugs, and get into and stay in care if infected.
Meanwhile, in a proclamation marking this year’s observance, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called for all Minnesotans to strongly support National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and to get involved with initiatives to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the American Indian communities.
Source: Minnesota Department of Health Communications