American Indian Community House leads the way for elders living with HIV
American Indian Community House
With HIV infections plummeting by 71% due to the tremendous success of PrEP the once a day pill that can prevent HIV infection, funders are lining up to prioritize the funding of HIV prevention programs. According to kff.org, billions of dollars were spent in the United States on HIV Prevention in 2019, and in the non-profit world - prevention is considered the "cure." But what about People Living With HIV (PLWH)? More over, what about the stigmatizing social, political, spiritual, and mental side effects of HIV that no pill treats? Where are the programs focusing on holistic wellness for those thriving, and surviving HIV? New York's American Indian Community House is creating such crucial and life changing programming.
The American Indian Community House (AICH) is no stranger to being a front line warrior in a fight where many other Native American social service organizations still fear being associated. As pioneers in early HIV/AIDS programming during the disease's devastating first wave in 1980's New York City, and continuing the fight with culturally appropriate HIV/AIDS programs and services like the organization's "First Light Program," American Indian Community House has been creating safer spaces and access for people living with HIV community members since the beginning of the epidemic.
American Indian Community House's Healthy Elders Network (HEN) is a program dedicated to the thriving and wellness of people living with HIV over 50. A demographic that trendy teen through late 20's "club kid" pop culture focused PrEP ads seem to neglect. As aichHEN.org states, "by 2030, up to 70% of people with HIV will be over the age of 50." American Indian Community House was one of 30 organizations to receive grant support from Gilead Sciences, Inc. to support the HIV Age Positively Initiative.
"We're targeting two important pieces of our Indigenous value system: our elders and holistic community wellness," says Deputy Director and Healthy Elders Network Program Director Sheldon Raymore, Cheyenne River Sioux.
The Healthy Elders Network focuses on an empowering community led model where improving care coordination, increasing resources for better well-being, and informing and educating providers are the centralized focuses. people living with HIV have unique needs that not all providers are equipped to meet. The Healthy Elders Network works to make sure that people aging with HIV receive care tailored to their needs through continuing education and training programs for providers and clinicians. People living with HIV participants also participate in focus groups and community input activities where they're able to tell providers what their needs are. Not the other way around.
Being an HIV positive elder as a Native American — in a community where health disparities, lack of access, and inter-generational trauma already present threats to Indigenous health and wellness — can be challenging and isolating. Having a network of caring and like-minded individuals devoted to empowering holistic wellness can in fact make all the difference in aging positively and with dignity.