Last year, I wrote an article for Wyattevans.com entitled, “The Quiet Invader within Native Americans.” In it, I reported the unfortunate and harsh reality that HIV testing, treatment and care are not reaching Native Americans the same way as they are other U. S. citizens.
Fortunately though, much-needed assistance is on the way. According to The Associated Press, The Indian Health Service (IHS)–the federal Native-American health care organization—and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are awarding up to $1 million to Native-American tribes and organizations for HIV care and prevention. The funding may also be allocated to organizations like Two-Spirit, a Native-American LGBTQ group.
The grant comes at a time when HIV-positive Native Americans have poorer survival rates compared with other races and ethnicities. The mission of IHS is three-pronged: to decrease transmission of the virus, reduce the number of new infections, and increase education and discussion about HIV in the Native-American community.
Rear admiral Sarah Linde, MD, the IHS acting chief medical officer, stated, “IHS data shows that as many as 26 percent of the American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) people living with HIV infection do not know it.”
And according to Lisa Neel–a program analyst at the HIV Program for IHS, there are an assortment of reasons why. “Poverty, which limits access to doctors and can put health concerns on the back burner for those struggling to feed themselves, is an all too common problem for Native Americans.”
Neel also states, “That compared with other racial and ethnic groups, American Indians and Alaska Natives have higher poverty rates, have completed fewer years of education, are younger, are less likely to be employed, and have lower rates of health insurance coverage.”
Often, this results into individuals not getting tested; therefore, scores are oblivious that they are in fact HIV-positive. Tragically, this results in some of those infected not getting needed treatment until their HIV advances to the point that they experience symptoms.
Neel is concerned that “cultural stigma faced by some gay and bisexual Native American men could also be discouraging testing and treatment,” and cites the higher rates of alcohol and drug use among all American Indians and Alaska Natives.
She concludes, “Although alcohol and substance abuse does not cause HIV infection, it is an associated risk factor because of its ability to reduce inhibitions and impair judgment. Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, AI/AN tend to use alcohol and drugs at a younger age, use them more often, and in higher quantities, and experience more negative consequences from them.”
The funding will be distributed over the course of five years, with up to $200,000 being granted per year. To receive funding, tribes and nonprofits must apply by August 28.