PUBLISHED: 4:33 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2007
SEARHC honors national Native HIV/AIDS awareness
SITKA - The first National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day takes place on Wednesday, March 21, with the theme "A Celebration of Life ... Protecting Our Future, Protecting Our People!"

To honor those Alaska Natives and American Indians who have been affected by HIV/AIDS, SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium will host a short walk at noon, Wednesday, March 21, from the Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital lobby to the Kootéeyaa Project Wellbriety totem pole in front of the SEARHC Community Health Services building. A brief ceremony of hope and remembrance will follow the walk, then refreshments will be served at the SEARHC CHS building.

HIV/AIDS infection rates are growing in Native communities at a higher rate than for other ethnic groups in the United States.

In Alaska, there have been 250 Natives diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, which is 22 percent of the 1,145 total cases from the state's first diagnosis in 1982 to Dec. 31, 2006. Of particular concern is the growing number of females with HIV/AIDS, almost a third of all new cases of HIV/AIDS are in women compared to less than 10 percent in the 1980s.

"Stigma, silence and behavior are fueling this epidemic. Although these are sesitive issues, we must begin to talk openly and honestly about HIV/AIDS in our communities," Dr. Charles Grim, DDS, Assistant Surgeon General and Director of the Indian Health Service, said about the first National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

"I encourage everyone to engage in discussion with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about HIV/AIDS within the context of our culture. Every time we discuss HIV, we lessen the fear, decrease the stigma and eliminate the silence.

"We then can have the opportunity to encourage others to protect themselves, know their status and promote a healthier community."

HIV/AIDS can be spread in several ways, with the highest risks being male homosexual contact, heterosexual contact and intravenous drug use. It also can be transmitted through transfusions and by an infected mother to her fetus.

People can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by having regular screenings, using protection (condoms) during sex and not sharing needles.

For more information on HIV/AIDS prevention and Wednesday's walk in Sitka, contact Barbara Teepe, RN, at 966-8318 or by e-mail at