This Tuesday, March 20, marks the 6th observance of National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day is set aside to acknowledge that HIV continues to threaten the health and well-being of our Native communities and to recognize the role that we all have in addressing this critical health issue.
As of 2008, 3,629 American Indians and Alaska Natives have been diagnosed with AIDS, and an estimated 1,847 with HIV/AIDS have died. We know that HIV/AIDS exists in urban and rural populations, yet many Native people with HIV are not aware of their status. Native Americans face greater health disparities and risk factors for HIV, such as higher rates of substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections. These statistics demonstrate the need for ongoing initiatives that help make HIV testing, education, and health care a routine part of our health services.
This observance is especially important this year as communities around the world prepare for the International AIDS conference in July in Washington, D.C. This event will bring together those working in the field of HIV, policy makers, persons living with HIV, and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic.
I would like to thank the dedicated members of the Indian health system and their partners who have made the commitment to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in the communities we serve. We all need to work together to stop this disease. I encourage you to educate yourself and your community about how HIV is spread, prevented, and treated. For information about HIV and AIDS, please visit our HIV/AIDS program website at www.ihs.gov/medicalprograms/hivaids/. For additional information, please visit www.aids.gov, or to find a testing center near you, visit www.hivtest.org.