On March 20, we recognize the impact of HIV/AIDS on American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. This 7th national observance is our chance to raise awareness of the risks of HIV to Native people, to help communities understand what contributes to those risks, and to encourage individuals to get tested for HIV.
CDC recommends that adults and adolescents get tested for HIV as least once as a routine part of medical care. People at increased risk should get an HIV test at least every year. Sexually active gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) might benefit from HIV testing every 3 to 6 months. Women should get an HIV test each time they are pregnant.
HIV in Native Communities
- HIV is a serious public health issue among American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN), who make up about 1.7% of the United States (US) population.
- AI/AN men accounted for 76% (161) and AI/AN women accounted for 24% (51) of the estimated 212 AI/AN diagnosed with HIV in 2011.
- Seventy five percent (120) of the estimated 161 HIV diagnoses among AI/AN men in 2011 were attributed to male-to-male sexual contact. Sixty-three percent (32) of the estimated 51 HIV infections among AI/AN women were attributed to heterosexual sex.
- In 2011, an estimated 146 AI/AN were diagnosed with AIDS, a number that has remained relatively stable since 2008.
- AI/AN face specific HIV prevention challenges, including poverty, homophobia, and culturally-based stigma.
Overall, approximately 20% of HIV-infected Americans do not know they are infected, while among AIs and ANs this figure is 25%. AIs and ANs diagnosed with HIV infection or AIDS have one of the shortest survival times of all ethnic or racial groups, suggesting that they may be diagnosed late in the course of their infection or have limited access to care. This highlights the need to educate AIs and ANs on the facts about HIV prevention and access to basic health care services.
Lack of access to basic health care services, stigma associated with gay relationships and HIV, barriers to mental health care, and high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, and poverty all increase the risk of HIV in Native communities and create obstacles to HIV prevention and treatment.
The reasons Native people are burdened by HIV are not directly related to race or ethnicity but rather to some of the challenges faced by many communities across the country. To address this epidemic, we must confront the factors that continue to place Native people at risk of contracting HIV, including circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, and age, as well as the systems put in place to deal with illness.
Through partnerships with community-based organizations, native communities are working to increase effective HIV/AIDS prevention activities and encourage early detection through testing. By using culturally competent HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, we can limit the spread of this devastating disease in Native communities.