STD testing including HIV is very important to a person’s overall health routine. As an STD awareness and prevention advocate, I take pride in supporting others that share this passion. I learned that March 20, 2015 is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NNHAAD). This is “an effort that was created to encourage American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians to get educated, tested, and involved in the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS.”
In order to educate myself on this population, I did some research. This is what I found.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that Native Americans and Alaska Natives represent approximately 2% of the population in the United States. Those diagnosed with HIV has remained pretty stable since 2009. Of these cases, most were males – outweighing female cases more than 3 to 1.
In males, most contracted the disease through sexual contact with other males (71%), followed by those who got it through injection drug use (13%). Ten percent (10%) were infected with HIV through heterosexual contact, and the remaining 6% were males that had sex with males who were also injection drug users.
The highest rate of infection among males may face a culturally based stigma, as they are males that have sexual contact with males. There may also be confidentiality concerns within the community that could limit opportunities for awareness, education, and testing. It is important that men are able to get past the stigma, embarrassment, or whatever is keeping them from being tested in order to get their STD testing, including HIV, completed.
In females, most women were infected through heterosexual contact (69%). The rest (29%) were through injection drug use. The report did not indicate any cases that were obtained through female sexual contact with other females. Either way, women must take control of their sexual health and get regular STD testing including HIV as well.
It is important to mention that part of the report indicates that Native Americans and Native Alaskans tend to use alcohol and drugs at a younger age. This is significant because although using alcohol and drugs does not cause HIV, it does impair judgement that may lead to behaviors that increase the risk of being infected. Additionally, injection drug use directly increases a person’s risk for contracting HIV if they use a syringe that someone else has used. Injection drug users that share needles should be tested often.
Another interesting part of this report is that of all racial/ethnic groups, American and Alaskan Natives show the second highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea infection and the fourth highest rate of syphilis within their community. Why is this significant? Because the CDC says that having any one of these sexually transmitted diseases increases the risk of also contracting the HIV infection. Hence, the need for a complete STD testing that screens for all major STD’s as well as HIV.
The challenge with treating any STD in any population is a lack of awareness in those who have it. People need to be aware when it comes to their full STD status. Too many cases go undiagnosed.
No matter what, if a person is sexually active or engages in high-risk behavior, it is important to take a full STD testing including HIV. Doctors recommend that this be done annually as well as with each new partner so treatment can begin as soon as any positive diagnosis is made.