AIDS battle reaches Natives
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DECEMBER 1, 2000

As 60 religious leaders from around the world gather today for the first World AIDS Day Summit in Washington, DC, the Native community may just be starting to face the battle.

Among Native populations in the United States and Canada, health officials are issuing warnings on what is already considered a worldwide epidemic. Infection rates of HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, and cases of AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, in Native communities have skyrocketed in recent years.

In 1984, the US Indian Health Service reported 4 AIDS cases among American Indians and Alaska Natives. As of June 1999, IHS reported over 2,700 cases.

Officials in Canada paint a similar picture among First Nations aboriginals. Over the past decade, the rate of AIDS cases has increased over 90 percent.

But in both countries, the number of undiagnosed cases of HIV is said to be high. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 200,000 Native Americans are infected with HIV unknowingly.

Both countries also consider Natives at increased risk for HIV infection. Lack of health services, economic status, and other factors such as alcoholism, domestic violence, and substance abuse contribute to the risk, say health experts.

Today's observance of World AIDS Day focuses on preventing the spread of HIV. Among both men and women, safe sex reduces the risk of transmission. Preventing drug and alcohol abuse also reduces the risk. Among drug users, those who inject drugs face increased threat of being infected with HIV.

Relevant Links:
World AIDS Day, The Washington Post/Intellihealth -
World AIDS Day, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -
AIDS FAQ, Centers for Disease Control -
AIDS Programs, Indian Health Service -
National Native American AIDS Prevention Center -
HIV and AIDS among Aboriginal people in Canada, Fact Sheet -
Health Canada -

Related Stories:
HIV/AIDS cases explode (First Nations 11/24)
Indian Country warned of AIDS threat (The Medicine Wheel 11/16)
HIV/AIDS in Indian Country (The Medicine Wheel 11/16)
Center to study health disparities (The Medicine Wheel 11/01)