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Fighting the Surge in HIV in Indian Country

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Infection rates of HIV and AIDS have declined worldwide, yet diagnoses among American Indians and Alaska Natives are increasing, according to the Office of National AIDS Policy. That doesn’t account for the approximately 26 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates live with HIV and remain unaware of their infection.

Once an American Indian contracts the virus, his or her likelihood of survival is much lower than that of HIV-positive people in other communities, states the Office of National AIDS Policy. To top it off, American Indians suffer from higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and substance use -- prime risk factors for contracting HIV, which can lead to the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, AIDS, said Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, director of the Indian Health Service (IHS), in an editorial on

On the Navajo Nation, IHS officials counted 35 new cases of HIV last year, up from 15 new diagnoses at Navajo-area facilities in 2000, reported the Native American Times. “These figures are very alarming,” Dr. Jonathan Iralu, infectious disease consultant for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said in a statement, reported The Farmington Daily Times.

On March 20, Indian tribes and organizations across the country observed the fifth annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The national movement, originally coordinated by tribal organizations and now embraced by native and non-native communities, according to the Indian Health Service website, helped educate and encourage American Indians and Alaska Natives to combat the spread of the epidemic.

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In response to the spike in new HIV cases, National IHS HIV/AIDS Program, along with the IHS, tribal, and urban providers, are increasing preventive screening in IHS facilities, stated Roubideaux. The collaborative effort also brings free online training to IHS facilities on various HIV/AIDS topics, and IHS is disseminating “locally-generated best practices within our communities” to increase testing and outreach, said Roubideaux.