December 1, 2010
For our World AIDS Day 2010 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- mostly those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
Native American AIDS Project
Native American AIDS Project (NAAP) is one of the country's leading organizations focused on comprehensive, full-service HIV/AIDS programs for Native Americans. Native American AIDS Project is committed to providing a wide range of culturally competent services for all Native American people affected by HIV/AIDS and health disparities -- including co-factors such as homelessness, substance abuse, poverty and disconnection from Native American culture.
The services we provide are focused on four priority areas: individual client services, community healing through traditional and cultural events, increased access to social and medical services, and advocacy on a policy level. Our organization developed out of a community need for care for our HIV-positive brothers and sisters and to address the need for HIV education and prevention in our communities. We opened our doors in 1994 to all members of our community in order to build a safe and sober place for Native Americans to ground themselves in community, access critically needed services and often serve as a place for families and friends to hold memorial ceremonies to honor the crossing over of a loved one.
Native American AIDS Project's programs have been driven by community need from the very beginning and our services have been successful in reaching out and supporting people alienated from and stigmatized within their communities of origin due to racism, homophobia, AIDS phobia, trans phobia, addictions and homelessness.
The 2010 US National HIV/AIDS Strategy states that when the size of the population is taken into account, American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have ranked third behind Blacks and Latinos in rates of HIV/AIDS diagnoses. Additionally, the San Francisco Bay Area region has the highest percentage of AI/AN peoples living with AIDS of any region within the United States (Walters 2007). Reports and data such as these are often under-reported and many AI/AN individuals are often misclassified as another race or "other," contributing to oversight of the severity of HIV/AIDS in the Native community.
Historical trauma also has caused many AI/ANs to become distrustful of people outside their community, directly impacting their ability to obtain and sustain adequate health care, employment, housing, prevention programs, and treatment. In order to combat this, Indian Health Service organizations and other medical, social and policy-based tribal organizations need to collect and report accurate figures on HIV/AIDS and STIs for Native Americans living on and off the reservations in the United States. In addition, urban settings need to work on improving data collection to reduce the amount of Native Americans classified as another race or "other."
Keeping with our mission, NAAP strives to reduce HIV transmission, sexually transmitted infections, and community viral loads in the urban environment of San Francisco as well as the rural environments of reservations across the country. Through outreach at cultural events and community gatherings such as powwows, NAAP is able to effectively serve our population while giving information to individuals who travel the powwow circuit throughout the year. These individuals then take the information with them to other cities and back to their own reservations.
NAAP focuses on traditional practice, ceremony and medicine as an integral part of our organization. Access to and use of traditional medicine and ceremony compliments the Western care that our clients receive and is correlated with an increase in medication adherence, stress relief, improvement in mental health and detoxification of the body. In a brief study conducted by a traditional healer at NAAP in 2003, there was an observed increase in CD4+ cells and decrease in viral load in pre/post assessments among HIV-positive individuals who participated in the sweat lodge ceremony.
Please join NAAP in helping to increase the visibility of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the Native community this World AIDS Day, by changing your social network picture to our logo. If you are interested in learning more about NAAP services, would like to collaborate with NAAP or have any questions, please contact Andrew Lopez at Andrew@naap-ca.org.
Joan Benoit has more than 20 years of experience in HIV/AIDS, and has been the executive director of NAAP since 1999. She is an enrolled member of the Chippewa of the Thames, First Nation. Andrew Lopez has been the HIV case manager at NAAP since April 2009. He also coordinates the Volunteer Program and sits on the Two Spirit Wellness Gathering Planning Committee.