Knowing your HIV status is Ceremony

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March 20th marked the 11th annual National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NNHAAD).

It was also the first day of Spring. It was acknowledged that in many Native cultures across the United States, the four seasons are highly respected because they closely represent the cycle of life. Although federal agencies lump American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIs/ANs), Native Americans are far from being of one mind when it comes to HIV. The federal government currently recognizes 567 tribes in 35 states, and “…they are just as different as the 50 states have different policies and norms,” says Jessica Leston, an Alaska Native and director for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. The transmission of HIV is a public health issue among AIs/ANs, who represent about 1.2% of the U.S. population. Overall, diagnosed HIV infections among AIs/ANs are proportional to their population size. Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, AIs/ANs ranked fifth in rates of HIV diagnoses in 2015 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, New Mexico Department of Health reported 43 new HIV diagnoses in 2016 and 6% of which were AIs/ANs. Further, HIV risk behavior is prevalent among the homeless population. Individuals experiencing homelessness are more likely than other subpopulations to engage in behaviors associated with HIV risk, including risky sexual practices, injection substances and needle sharing, and trading sexual acts for money, drugs, or a place to stay per the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council 2012 report. The AHCH Harm Reduction Outreach Program provides rapid HIV testing, counseling, and referral services in partnership with United Way of Central New Mexico and other funders. The Harm Reduction Outreach Program also provides a variety of services to persons experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders and individuals seeking general services including referral to medical, housing, food and clothing. Services are provided by certified Harm Reduction Specialists at the AHCH campus and at multiple outreach sites that also provide services and care to people who are experiencing homelessness. The program functions using an integrative model in conjunction with the AHCH medical, dental, social services and case management programs. This primary care testing approach is reiterated in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy released in 2010, which states that all health care settings should be utilized for HIV testing. Spring represents a time of equality and balance and is the only day when day and night are at equal lengths. It is considered a time of profound change, new beginnings and birth. The cycle of life is defined by the change in seasons, and ceremonies are held to recognize the passing of one season and the beginning of another. For more information about the AHCH Harm Reduction Program call (505)338-8040 or visit our website at

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