New Mexico has the second highest Native American population in the nation, second only to Alaska. We celebrate our Native heritage and culture in a variety of ways here in New Mexico, but in the month of March, we also need to celebrate the health of future generations.
As a group, Native Americans are at a higher risk for HIV infection. In honor of National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 20th, UNM Truman wants to start a conversation about HIV in our Native community and what we can do to prevent it.
There are a number of reasons why Native Americans are more at risk for HIV infection nationwide. These include:
- Access to healthcare; Native Americans who live on reservations do not have access to the same quality of healthcare offered in urban areas, making it more difficult to get tested for HIV
- Lack of HIV awareness; a greater percentage of adult and adolescent members of the Native community are estimated to be HIV+ and unaware of their status
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs); as a group, Native Americans have the second highest rates of STIs, which significantly increases the risk of HIV infection
- Alcohol and drug use; more young Native Americans are reported to use alcohol and drugs than any other group
In New Mexico alone, there are 22 Native American tribes, each of which has a unique culture and different traditions. The cultural diversity can present a challenge to HIV prevention advocates, who need to be sensitive to the unique needs of each population.
The threat of HIV is severe for Native Americans, since their population is smaller than other minority groups. Because of limited access to healthcare and stigma attached to HIV infection, many Native individuals do not get the medical help they need.
There are many ways you can take charge and prevent HIV in your Native community, including:
- Get tested. Lead by example and encourage young people in your community to get tested for HIV, as well. It only takes 30 minutes and is FREE at UNM Truman Health Services.
- Practice safe sex. Using condoms consistently and correctly can reduce the risk of HIV infection. For MSM, PrEP can be used to prevent infection as well.
- Use clean needles. Sharing works with others can significantly increase the likelihood of getting HIV. Use a needle exchange program instead.
- Talk about it. Talk to your parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and your friends about HIV. Tell them you care about their health and future.
Together, we can prevent HIV from affecting future generations of Native Americans in New Mexico and nationwide. Whether you do it today or on March 20th, get tested and encourage others to get tested.
UNM Truman Health Services will be participating in events on National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day! Check out our Facebook page for updates on free testing, panel discussions, and more!