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Alaska: Inupiat Woman Shares Story of AIDS Tragedy

December 10, 2002

Health officials trying to stem the spread of AIDS among Alaskan Natives are hoping an Inupiat woman will help to crack the wall of silence about the virus in rural Alaska. Selina Moose is traveling from village to village telling the story of her 40-year-old brother, who discovered he was in the advanced stages of AIDS last summer. The family decided to go public, sharing the news with their village of 400 in the Northwest Alaska Native Association (NANA) region. They held a village meeting. Shocked at first, people came to respect their honesty, especially the elders, health officials said.

"HIV can wipe a village out," Moose told a crowd recently marking World AIDS Day at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. "We had to tell our people because not telling them meant extinction."

Today, Moose's brother is battling AIDS without medication, at home. He is getting visits from friends and eating local foods, she said.

Moose's story could go a long way, health officials said at the ANHC meeting, because AIDS is not discussed much among Alaska Natives. Natives often do not discuss sexuality openly, complicating efforts to raise awareness of prevention and treatment, said Diane Johnson-Van Parijs, development director of the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association.

Alaska Natives have accounted for nearly a quarter of Alaska's roughly 820 reported HIV cases, yet represent 16 percent of Alaska's population. More than 130 people have died of AIDS in Alaska. Most HIV cases are among urban Natives, said Michael Covone, HIV/AIDS prevention program manager for the Alaska Native Health Board. But nobody knows how big the problem is in villages because nobody wants to talk about it, Covone said. "What Selina has done is open discussion. ... If every Alaska family did this, HIV would be a very different disease."

To combat the stigma of AIDS in rural Alaska, ANHB has created a series of public service announcements in English and Yupik, likening AIDS to earlier diseases brought to Native communities by Europeans, such as smallpox, tuberculosis and influenza.

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Adapted from:
Associated Press

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Native Americans & HIV/AIDS