Working to Address HIV/AIDS in Native American Communities

Ronald Valdiserri

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri

In her statement last week on the observance of National Native American Heritage Month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius reiterated the Department’s commitment to ensuring the health and well being of all Americans. She highlighted examples of how the Department is working to reduce the health disparities that have burdened American Indians and Alaska Natives.

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage MonthEven though the numbers of HIV and AIDS diagnoses among American Indians and Alaska Natives represent less than 1% of the total cases, when population size is taken into account, rates are higher than those reported for whites. According to the most recent HIV surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the estimated rate of annual diagnoses of HIV infection from 2007 through 2010 remained stable nationally, but the rate among American Indians/Alaska Natives increased during that period. In 2010, the rate of HIV diagnoses in the American Indian/Alaska Native population was 9.7 per 100,000 persons. This rate is greater than the rates reported for the white and Asian and Pacific Islander populations. In addition, while the rate of annual AIDS diagnoses decreased nationally during 2007-2010, the rate of AIDS diagnoses among American Indians/Alaska Natives increased. In 2010, the rate of AIDS diagnoses was 7.2 per 100,000 persons in the American Indian/Alaska Native population. (Additional information is available in the CDC fact sheet “HIV/AIDS among American Indians and Alaska Natives” and in the CDC’s HIV Surveillance Report, 2010.)

As we observe National Native American Heritage Month, we salute our federal and community partners working to address these HIV/AIDS trends in the American Indian and Alaska Native populations. Some highlights include:

  • With nearly $4 million awarded from the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund in fiscal year 2012, the Indian Health Service (IHS) is working across its programs to promote and increase HIV testing and expand the capacity of IHS health centers to diagnose and treat HIV/AIDS, including individuals co-infected with viral hepatitis. Other activities are focused on re-engaging Native persons living with HIV in HIV care as well as enhancing the continuity and quality of care to people living with HIV/AIDS who have co-occurring substance abuse service needs.
  • The HIV/AIDS Bureau (HAB) of the Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) is implementing a special HIV care training initiative for health care providers serving American Indian or Alaska Native populations through the existing national network of AIDS Education and Training Centers. This training activity is also supported by the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund.
  • Several community health centers serving Native American populations are engaged in intensive HIV/AIDS care and treatment capacity building efforts through the HRSA-funded National Center for HIV Care in Minority Communities Exit Disclaimer (NCHCMC). The NCHCMC is working with federally supported community health centers serving communities of color to reduce HIV related health disparities by expanding HIV care and treatment capacity at the community level and facilitating linkages to care. Among the Native American-serving sites participating are the Southern Indian Health Council Exit Disclaimer and the Sacramento Native American Health Center Exit Disclaimer in California, the Kyle Health Center in South Dakota, and South Dakota Urban Indian Health Exit Disclaimer.

Those of us working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. join the Secretary and our partners in Native communities across the country in celebrating National Native American Heritage Month and bolstering our commitment to ensuring that all American Indian and Alaska Native people have a healthier future, free of HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases.