Indian Health Services may be getting additional resources to address HIV and AIDS in Indian Country.
In his February State of the Union address, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s plan to stop the spread of HIV within 10 years. Along with almost 50 urban communities nationwide, Oklahoma and six other predominately rural states with disproportionately high HIV rates will be receiving additional funding to expand prevention and treatment programs.
On a March 19 press call with reporters in advance of National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, officials with IHS announced the agency would be receiving up to $25 million for case management and testing resources under that proposed plan.
“During National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we are excited to highlight the Eliminating Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS in Indian Country Initiative, part of the president’s ‘Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America,’” IHS Principal Deputy Director Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee said. “This new initiative specifically directs additional funds to Indian Country and provides significant support to the ongoing HIV prevention and treatment provided by IHS and our tribal and urban Indian organization partners. This is a historic turning point in ending HIV in Indian Country.”
Between 2012 and 2016, the number of new HIV diagnoses across Indian Country increased by 34 percent, with the highest spike among gay and bisexual Indigenous men. The higher rate of diagnoses coincides with a 63 percent increase in screening among Natives ages 13-64.
Since 2007, March 20 has been observed as National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Nationally, an estimated 26 percent of HIV-positive Indigenous adults are unaware that they are carrying the virus.
In order to contract HIV, infected blood or bodily fluids containing blood cells must enter the body. The most common transmission methods include sex and intravenous drug use, although an infected mother can also pass on the virus to her child via pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding if antiretroviral drugs are not taken during pregnancy and after birth.
Infection cannot occur through normal or casual contact, such as hugging, kissing, dancing or shaking hands with someone who has HIV or AIDS. HIV is not spread through insect bites, air or water.
An estimated 87 percent of all HIV infections are via people who are not diagnosed or seeking treatment.
According to 2016 data, the most recent year for which state-level statistics are available, 295 new cases of HIV and AIDS were diagnosed in Oklahoma, with the majority among adults in their 20s.
Across all age groups, Native Americans accounted for 8.1 percent of the state’s new HIV diagnoses and 5.3 percent of new AIDS cases.
With an average gap time of 3.5 years between contracting the disease and receiving a diagnosis, Native Americans also account for 7.3 percent of Oklahoma’s HIV/AIDS-related fatalities.
The lag time between contracting the virus and getting a diagnosis provides more opportunities for HIV to destroy a person’s immune system and increase the risk of developing AIDS.
“We want to make sure everyone is aware of their infection and receive the treatment they need,” IHS Medical Director Rear Admiral Dr. Michael Toedt said.