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U.S. News

Alaska: AIDS Takes a Growing Toll on Native Americans

July 27, 2005

AIDS infection rates for Native American adults and adolescents surpassed Anglos' rates in 1995 and in 2003 were 11.5 per 100,000, 40 percent higher than Anglos' 8.1. More than half the cases are concentrated in the western states of California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Washington and Alaska.

And with AIDS cases increasing in some of the most remote Native American villages, the insular nature of some of those outposts means the disease "could wipe out entire communities if not aggressively addressed," said Irene Vernon, author of a book on Native Americans and HIV/AIDS titled "Killing Us Quietly."

In Kiana, an Alaskan village of 400 Inupiat natives north of the Arctic Circle, Frank Igluguq Gooden was the first to acknowledge he was infected. In the winter of 2002, Gooden, 41, could not seem to get well and thought he had pneumonia. He was flown to Anchorage's Alaska Native Medical Center and was diagnosed with fully developed AIDS.

Selina Moose, his sister, realized the threat to the village. "There is a lot of drinking and promiscuity" in Kiana, said Moose. With Gooden's permission, she flew back home in June and told family members of his diagnosis, and they spoke with Kiana Traditional Council President Ben Atoruk. In response, many people attended an HIV/AIDS meeting in Kiana, including the regional mayor, a public health nurse, the state epidemiologist, a spiritual leader, and a lab technician who took blood samples. Among more than 45 people who took an HIV test, several tested positive.

"This dreadful disease could wipe out Kiana in a few years. We need to tell everybody about it," Atoruk remembers saying then.

An earlier AIDS case in another village had caused hysteria. Faced with planes that brought food, mail, and supplies refusing to land, the village resorted to changing its name.

"I was worried the village wouldn't want us around, that they wouldn't want Frank around, that the whole family would be shunned," said Moose. "But we couldn't have blood on our hands."

Gooden died on Dec. 1, 2002. This year, on Memorial Day, Moose invited the villagers to a memorial picnic in the graveyard; more than 100 attended.

Back to other news for July 27, 2005

Adapted from:
Associated Press
07.24.2005; Judy Nichols

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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