Story last updated at 3/18/2009 - 8:55 pm
SITKA - The third National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day takes place on Friday, March 20. The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium will honor those Alaska Natives, American Indians and Native Hawaiians who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. On March 20, an information table about the impact of HIV/AIDS on Alaska Natives will be set up near the Litehouse Cafeteria at the SEARHC Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka.
HIV/AIDS infection rates are growing in Native communities at a higher rate than for other ethnic groups in the United States, and Natives with HIV/AIDS tend to be younger than non-Natives. In Alaska, there have been 282 Natives diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, which is 22 percent of the 1,261 total cases from the state's first diagnosis in 1982 to Dec. 31, 2008. Of particular concern is the growing number of females with HIV/AIDS. Now almost a third of all new cases of HIV/AIDS are in women, compared to less than 10 percent in the 1980s. Natives also have the shortest times between AIDS diagnosis and death.
"HIV is affecting thousands of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians," said Robert McSwain, Acting Director of the Indian Health Service. "Many people with HIV are not aware of their status, so they may be infecting others, and not accessing treatment which could help them."
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can be spread in several ways, with the highest risks being for male homosexual contact, heterosexual contact and through intravenous drug use and shared needle use. HIV can also be transmitted through transfusions, breastfeeding or by an infected mother to her fetus. Over time, a case of HIV eventually can progress to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which usually is fatal. New treatments for HIV have slowed the progression to AIDS and extended life spans.
Everyone can take action in the fight against HIV/AIDS by getting tested for HIV/AIDS, practice safe sex methods to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, avoid engaging in high-risk behaviors, talk about HIV/AIDS prevention with family and friends, provide support to people living with HIV/AIDS, and get involved with or host an event for National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
For more information about HIV/AIDS prevention and testing, contact Barbara Teepe, RN, at 966-8318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.