March 20th marks the first day of spring. From the east coast to the west coast, flowers begin to awaken from their hibernation, the snow melts, and the sun seems to shine a little brighter. The changing season from winter to spring is when nature is reborn again. For many, it’s a time of restoration, renovation, and renewal. This day is also National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness day.
On the 9th national observance of this day, we recognize the impact of HIV and AIDS on American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Because of their small population sizes (about 1.7% of the U.S. population), HIV and AIDS affects Native people in ways that are not always obvious. Native Hawaiians have the highest proportion (46%) of people diagnosed with AIDS within 12 months of HIV diagnosis, and American Indians and Alaska Natives have the second highest proportion (38%).
HIV is a serious public health issue among Native peoples. They face specific HIV prevention challenges, including poverty, culturally-based stigma against sexually-active gay and bisexual individuals, and high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, relative to whites and Hispanics/Latinos.
This day is a day to raise awareness about the risks of HIV and AIDS to Native people. On the first day of the spring equinox, it is a time to recommit to education, prevention and action. It’s a day to work together to learn more about the impact of HIV and AIDS in the community, encourage testing options to know your status, and decrease the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.