Hear Indigenous Voices: 10th Annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

March 20 marks the 10th Annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a federal holiday to encourage indigenous populations to get tested.
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March 20, 2016 marks the 10th Annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The theme this year is “Hear Indigenous Voices: Uniting bold voices of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders.” Natives across Turtle Island will challenge individuals, health providers, and government agencies to increase education efforts and HIV testing in indigenous communities.

“We encourage those who demand an AIDS-free generation to make some noise and become warriors for this goal,” says a press release from NNHAAD, which says some data reflecting HIV/AIDS prevalence in Native populations can be misleading.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have compiled a report on problems surrounding gathering accurate data for Natives, which recommends promoting routine, opt-out HIV testing and improvements in race/ethnicity classification of indigenous populations by working through a tribal liaison, Indian Health Board, or Tribal Epidemiology Center. It also suggests making sure that data about HIV/AIDS can reach indigenous communities.

“Local health departments and government agencies use HIV epidemiological data including HIV prevalence, or the estimated number of people living with HIV, to identify the populations most affected by the epidemic in their areas. However, these data were unsuccessful in reflecting a comprehensive picture of the disease in smaller racial/ethnic populations, not unlike the American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders, who find it difficult to access HIV treatment or testing services,” points out NNHAAD. “The take home message is that data is reliant upon testing and historically, Native people haven’t been strong proponents of testing. This must be changed, if Natives are to achieve an AIDS free generation.”

According to the CDC’s 2013 HIV Surveillance Report, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and American Indians/Alaska Natives ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the estimated rates of HIV infections when compared to all other racial/ethnic groups in the United States. That report notes that both AI/AN men and women had the highest percent of estimated diagnoses of HIV infection attributed to injection drug use, compared with all other races/ethnicities in the United States. However the National Center for Health Statistics’ 2011 National Health Interview Survey found that more than 70 percent of Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders and almost 43 percent of AI/AN adults have never been tested for HIV. Accurate surveillance relies on testing data, which is essential for early treatment and documenting the need for funding additional HIV testing and prevention efforts.

How Can You Help?

National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a day to educate your community and encourage testing. Events can be posted on the NNHAAD Facebook page and the NNHAAD calendar. When posting events, use #NNHAAD.

About National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NNHAAD), which is observed annually on the spring equinox, is a national community mobilization effort designed to encourage American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians to get educated, get tested, and get involved in HIV prevention and treatment. This federally recognized awareness day was founded in 2007 and is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Committee partners include Begaye Consulting, Center for Prevention and Wellness, Commitment to Action for 7th-Generation Awareness & Education, Council Oak Training and Evaluation, Inc., ETR’s Community Impact Solutions Project, Florida Health Department—HIV/AIDS Section, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.