March 20 Marks National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Observance Draws Attention to a Critical Health Issue Among Native Communities

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 19, 2009) - The third annual observance of National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is Friday, March 20, a time to bring attention to the serious toll the epidemic has taken on Native communities. HIV/AIDS is a critical and continuing health issue among Native Americans in New York and across the nation.

Even though the numbers of HIV and AIDS diagnoses for Native Americans are small, when population size is taken into account, Native Americans had the third-highest rate of HIV/AIDS after blacks and Hispanics/Latinos in New York from 2005-2007. Nationally, there are nearly 2,300 Native Americans living with the disease. Of these, approximately 140 are Native Americans in New York. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading risk factor for HIV nationally for Native Americans and Alaska Natives is male-to-male sexual contact for men and heterosexual contact for women.

"HIV/AIDS remains a serious health threat to the Native American community," said State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "That's why it is critically important that prevention programs be tailored to the specific needs of this population. The Department remains strongly committed to addressing this challenge."

Each year, the state Department of Health (DOH) provides more than $700,000 to Native organizations for HIV testing, prevention and supportive services in their communities. Programs are designed to reflect the cultures, beliefs and practices of the people to be reached, and many include intergenerational components where elders are involved with the education of the young.

"It's important to remember that cultural and historical factors need to be considered if we want to be successful in our work to prevent and treat HIV infections in these communities," said Humberto Cruz, Director of DOH's AIDS Institute.

According to U.S. census estimates, there are more than 90,000 American Indian and Alaska Native persons living in New York. While most all live in or near sovereign nations, territories, reservations and villages, approximately 11 percent are located in urban or suburban areas. Those who live in rural areas may be less likely to be tested for HIV because their access to testing is limited, and because of concerns about confidentiality in close-knit communities.

Historically, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have been disproportionately affected by numerous health issues such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. In addition, American Indian and Alaska Natives are more likely to face challenges associated with risk for HIV infection, including high rates of sexually transmitted disease, substance abuse leading to engaging in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, and issues related to poverty such as lower education levels and limited access to health care.