Have you ever wondered how the date for an HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is chosen?
Every community has its own story about the origin of its observance, but March 20, the date on which National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NNHAAD) is observed each year, was chosen deliberately to coincide with the first day of spring.
For many indigenous peoples—including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians—the time around the spring equinox marks a time of commemoration, renewal, and rebirth.
That is why March 20 is an ideal day to observe NNHAAD. It’s a day to remember and honor those who have passed on; to renew our commitment to HIV prevention, care, and treatment; and to thank those who care for and support people who are living with, or at risk for, HIV in our communities.
It’s also an opportunity to encourage everyone to learn more about how the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Native communities across the nation are working together to implement the Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) initiative and the Ready, Set, PrEP patient assistance program in Indian Country.
IHS has a strong commitment to ensuring that our efforts focus on the four “pillars” of EHE:
- Diagnosing people with HIV as early as possible.
- Treating people with HIV rapidly and effectively to achieve sustained viral suppression.
- Preventing new cases of HIV by using proven prevention interventions (including PrEP medications).
- Responding quickly to potential new HIV outbreaks to get prevention and treatment services to those who need them.
Ready, Set, PrEP is a key component of EHE. The program provides PrEP HIV prevention medications at no cost to those who lack prescription drug insurance.
With resources from the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund (MHAF), IHS has been able to provide funding to our partners, including the National Indian Health Board, the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, the National Council of Urban Indian Health, the Cherokee Nation Health Services, and Tribal Epidemiology Centers to begin implementing EHE and Ready, Set, PrEP. In fiscal year 2019, with resources from the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund, IHS awarded $7.9M to IHS, tribal, and urban Indian healthcare organizations to help end the HIV epidemic in Native communities.
IHS also supports the National Native HIV Network, which is responsible for NNHAAD. The Network includes representatives who live and work in Native communities around the country. Network members give advice to IHS on the most effective ways to implement HIV prevention, testing, and treatment efforts for Native peoples.
Through all these partnerships, IHS is working to ensure that all Native people have access to the care and treatment they need to protect their health if they are already living with HIV, and to prevent new HIV transmissions.
The “winter” of HIV has lasted almost 40 years now. Today, we celebrate the return of spring, with its promise of new life and hope. Working together, we can ensure we fulfill that promise for Indian Country and the United States as a whole.
Find out about the new, free PrEP Training for Community & Public Health Staff e-learning modules for providers working with American Indian/Alaskan Native clients.