National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

national-native-hiv-aids-awareness-day

Courtesy:  Indian Country Today

It was just few days ago when I learned that March was designated as Women’s History Month.  Well, today, an identical thing happened to me which prompted me to put this post together in a hurry.  I found out just a few minutes ago that today is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  I also discovered that my ignorance of the day is not surprising given that it is a little known observance day.  NNHAAD is a day geared toward drawing attention to and building support for HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care among American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian populations.  Here are some facts, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), women account for 29% of the HIV/AIDS diagnoses. 
  • For Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NH/PI) populations given a diagnosis, 78% were men, 21% were women, and 1% were children (under 13 years of age) in 2005.
  • From 2007 to 2010, new HIV infections among AI/NA populations increased by 8.7% (CDC).

While these percentages may seem low, one must remember to take into account the size of these populations compared to more populous races and ethnicities in the U.S. For example, according to the CDC, in 2005 American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked 3rd in rates of HIV/AIDS diagnosis, following blacks and Hispanics. To put this into numbers, the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections in 2008 per 100,000 persons were:

  • 73.7 Black/African American
  • 25.0 Hispanic/Latinos
  • 22.85 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 
  • 11.9 American Indian and Alaska Native 
  • 8.2 Whites
  • 7.2 Asians

Given that many of these populations live in rural areas, access to health care services can be difficult. Not to mention other roadblocks to obtaining needed services such as language and cultural barriers. Native communities have some of the shortest survival times after diagnosis of HIV/AIDS of all race and ethnicity groups in the U.S.

The report also showed that Native communities are not accessing the much needed care and attention after being diagnosed with HIV.  I also learned that about 26% are living with HIV and don’t even know it.  So, this means that since they don’t know that they have it, they wouldn’t seek medical help.  On the other hand, those who know that they have it, take steps to protect their health and take action to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Thankfully, there are public services like the IHS (Indian Health Service), an agency whose mission is to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.  Our goal is to assure that comprehensive, culturally acceptable personal and public health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people.  The IHS operates within Department of Health and Human Services.

The IHS National HIV/AIDS Program is committed to partnering with communities to create lasting change in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We provide programs to assist individuals, families, communities, and health care providers to:

  • Understand how HIV is spread, and share knowledge about HIV with others
  • Get tested for HIV
  • Put policies and procedures in place to offer a HIV testing as a routine part of all health care
  • Improve access to care, treatment, and prevention services needed by people living with HIV and AIDS

IHS providers throughout the country are offering screening more often, collaborating with communities to increase education, and offering care or referrals where direct care is not available. We can all help to reduce the stigma within our culture and among health care providers regarding HIV/AIDS.

I was shocked to learn that March 20, 2016 was the tenth anniversary of this annual awareness day.  I wonder how many people out there who even know that it exists.  Awareness, education and access are key.  And I applaud the many dedicated organizations that are currently working hard within the Indigenous communities to break down barriers and to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.   

The theme for 2016 was:  “Hear Indigenous Voices: Uniting the Bold Voices of American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders.” Last year’s was:  theme is “Unity in CommUnity, Stand Strong to Prevent HIV.” On this day, we recognize the impact of HIV/AIDS on American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.  The theme this year is “Unity in CommUNITY: Stand Strong for HIV Prevention.

It is my hope and prayer that long after this year’s National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day passes, that more people will find ways to stand strong for the Native communities.  We have heard the Indigenous voices, stood with them as we recognized that they are impacted by HIV/AIDS and now we must stand strong for prevention.  We have heard the voices, now it is time to be united in the fight to change the tide in this epidemic which discriminates against no one.  The HIV/AIDs is not one group’s or community’s fight but everyone’s fight.

Sources:  Humanitas Global Development; Indian Country Today; Indian Health Service

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Polio Vaccines

I was appalled when I learned of the Nigerian women who were gunned down because they were giving out polio vaccines.  They were killed by gunmen suspected of belonging to a radical Islamic sect shot and killed at least nine as they took part part in a polio vaccination drive in northern Nigeria on Friday, February 8, 2013.  Residents of Kano, Nigeria’s largest city, predominantly Muslim were shocked.  This area is where women usually went from house to house to carry out the polio vaccination drives since families felt safer having them in their homes instead of men.  This attack is a result based on the belief fueled by clerics that the vaccines were part of a Western plot to sterilize young girls.

Washington’s State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the killing and injuring of health workers in Nigeria.  “They were engaged in life-saving work, trying to vaccinate children,” she told reporters. “Any violence that prevents children from receiving basic life-saving vaccines is absolutely unacceptable wherever it happens.”  It is suspected that Boko Haram had been behind the shootings.  Witnesses spoke in anonymity out of fear of angering the sect whose name means “Western education is sacrilege”.

The suspicion surrounding polio vaccinations in Nigeria was kindled in 2003 when a Kano physician heading the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria said the vaccines were “corrupted and tainted by evildoers from America and their Western allies.” This remark led to hundreds of new infections in children in Nigeria’s north where beggars on locally made wooden skateboards dragged their withered legs back and forth in traffic, begging for alms. The 2003 disease outbreak in Nigeria eventually spread throughout the world,  even causing infections in Indonesia.  Nigeria is one of three countries where polio remains endemic.  Afghanistan and Pakistan are the other two.  Imagine last year Nigeria registered 121 new cases of polio infections. This is more than half of all cases reported around the world, according to data from the World Health Organization.

Attacks on health workers giving out polio vaccines are not limited to Nigeria.  The National Post did an article on how the polio vaccine program in Pakistan was proving to be lethal for health workers.  Last year in December, eight of them, mostly young, female and poorly paid were murdered in Karachi and northwestern Pakistan.   Militants in Pakistan have accused health workers of acting as spies for the U.S., alleging that the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.  This accusation comes after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down and kill al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden.  The UN has suspended the vaccine program until it’s safe enough to restart.  This may be indefinite unless the government steps in and does something to curb the escalating violence.  In the meantime, foreign aid workers are either being killed or abducted for ransom and teenage girls volunteering to prevent the spread of polio are being killed.  The World Health Organization (WHO) suspended its polio vaccination programme in Karachi following the murders of five members of polio vaccination teams.  All were women and the youngest was 14 years old.  They were all Pakistani nationals working on behalf of WHO and its local partners.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a contagious disease that can be prevented by vaccination. It is spread from person to person and through contaminated food and water. Polio can attack the central nervous system and destroy the nerve cells that activate muscles.  It is heartbreaking to know that children are are going to suffer from this viral disease which can affect their nerves and lead to partial or full paralysis because certain local populations are refusing to allow their children to receive the vaccine.  The communities are worried about sterilization but what about paralysis or in some cases, death?  Why don’t they educate themselves and learn more about how the vaccine works before they flat out refuse to have it administered to their children?

The poliomyelitis ( polio ) vaccine protects against poliovirus infections. The vaccine helps the body produce antibodies (protective substances) that will prevent an individual from contracting polio.  This protects both both individual vaccine recipients and the wider community.  There are two types of vaccine that protect against polio: inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV). IPV, used in the United States since 2000, is given as an injection in the leg or arm, depending on patient’s age.  Most people should get polio vaccine when they are children.  OPV has not been used in the United States since 2000 but is still used in many parts of the world.

A global effort to eradicate polio, led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and The Rotary Foundation, began in 1988 and has relied largely on the oral polio vaccine developed by Albert Sabin.  The disease was entirely eradicated in the Americas by 1994. Polio was officially eradicated in 36 Western Pacific countries, including China and Australia in 2000.   Europe was declared polio-free in 2002.   Since January 2011, there were no reported cases of the disease in India, and hence in February 2012, the country was taken off the WHO list of polio endemic countries. It is reported that if there are no cases of polio in the country for two more years, it will be declared as a polio-free country.

It is high time that Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan be declared as polio-free countries.  The government needs to protect the health workers who are risking their lives to protect the communities.  It’s time the governments of these countries got serious about eradicating polio so that children are not condemned to living the rest of their lives in wheelchairs or on crutches.  The people need to be educated.  They need information that would counter the tales that polio vaccination is a ploy of the West to spread infidel practices.

It’s time for the governments of Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan to stand up and do what is best for their young and vulnerable.  And if nothing is done to stop the spread of this virus, these nations will become crippled and sick.  It’s time to take action.  It’s time to put aside your fears and protect your children and their future.

His parents fear OPV will render his son impotent and that he will never be able to produce children in case of vaccination. Despite repeated attempts, they didn’t understand the significance of the vaccine. As a result, their child is disabled for entire life.SOURCE: Rantburg 2013-02-10 05:25:00

They were engaged in lifesaving work, trying to vaccinate children … Any violence that prevents children from receiving basic life-saving vaccines is absolutely unacceptable, wherever it happens..SOURCE: Arkansas Online 2013-02-09 11:11:00

Having children made us look differently at all these things that we take for granted, like taking your child to get a vaccine against measles or polio.
Melinda Gates

When I was about 9, I had polio, and people were very frightened for their children, so you tended to be isolated. I was paralyzed for a while, so I watched television.
Francis Ford Coppola

polio vaccine

Sources:  http://http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/witnesses-nigeria-sect-group-attacks-polio-drives-18437814; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002375/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polio_vaccine; http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/12/20/pakistans-polio-vaccine-program-proving-lethal-for-health-workers/; http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/info/polio-eng.php; http://www.healthofchildren.com/P/Polio-Vaccine.html; http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=149114&Cat=8; http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/polio/default.htm; http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/polio/quotes/; http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/polio.html#76XBp9gi2wMCs364.99