HHS Officials Warn of HIV/AIDS ‘Threat’ in Native American Communities
U.S. health officials warned yesterday that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is increasingly taking hold in Native American communities and poses a "serious health threat" to the well-being of that population. Speaking at the 57th Annual Session of the National Congress of American Indians, Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher said, "The number of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) persons living with AIDS continues to grow. Often, the total number of AIDS cases in the AI/AN communities appears small and insignificant, but these cases continue to increase. Therefore, we must support prevention efforts." According to the CDC, as of the end of last year more than 2,000 Native Americans were diagnosed with AIDS (Office of the Surgeon General release, 11/15). And while Native Americans make up only 1% of the U.S. population, they account for 6% of all new HIV cases since last December (Lee, Lincoln Journal-Star, 11/16). Epidemic Factors Dr. Eric Goosby, acting director of the Office of HIV/AIDS policy, said that alcoholism, substance abuse and high rates of STDs in the Native American community have helped to accelerate the spread of HIV. "When you combine the increasing [HIV] case numbers with other health factors in Native communities, HIV/AIDS poses an explosive health threat," he said. Goosby added that community leaders have not addressed the growing problem, as a lack of confidential testing and the "tremendous stigma of homosexuality" provide a disincentive for HIV-positive Native Americans to seek testing (Office of the Surgeon General release, 11/15). For instance, many Native Americans from rural communities will not seek testing because they fear that community members will recognize their cars in the testing location's parking lot. Addressing the overall denial of the effect of HIV, Jack Jackson, NCAI's governmental affairs director and a member of the NavajoNation, said, "There are many people in Indian country and within the federal and state government who believe that HIV/AIDS is not a pressing problem in the AI/AN populations." He called for "tribal leaders throughout Indian country to address the issue" and for "better surveillance" of the epidemic. Goosby compared the lack of recognition about the threat of AIDS in the Native American community to that seen in Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia just before the AIDS epidemic exploded in those regions (Lincoln Journal-Star, 11/16). Jackson also discussed two federal programs -- the Leadership Campaign on AIDS and the Crisis Response Team Initiative -- aimed at increasing HIV awareness and treatment for minority communities (Office of the Surgeon General release, 11/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.