This Sunday, March 20, marks the 5th observance of National Native American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day is set aside to acknowledge that HIV continues to threaten the health and well-being of Native communities. On this day we celebrate our successes and plan how to best continue working in partnership to address HIV and AIDS among Native people.
HIV is a considerable problem in Indian Country. From 2006-2009, the rate of HIV diagnoses among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) increased. AI/AN also face more risk factors than some other groups, such as higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and substance use. As an American Indian physician and a member of a tribal community, I want to do everything in my power to reduce the spread of HIV.
To combat this epidemic, our National IHS HIV/AIDS Program, in collaboration with IHS, tribal, and urban providers, has increased preventive screening in IHS facilities, including providing free online training on a wide range of HIV/AIDS related topics. We are also disseminating locally-generated best practices within our communities to increase HIV/AIDS testing and outreach activities.
For the first time since the beginning of this epidemic, the United States has a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Federal agencies from across the government, including the Indian Health Service, recently worked together to release detailed operational plans for implementing this collaborative strategy within their agencies. These operational plans describe the steps to be taken to meet our goals of reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.
In addition to encouraging testing for HIV, this day also allows us the opportunity to thank dedicated staff and community members who continue to improve services, foster partnerships, and advocate for American Indians and Alaska Natives.