GALLUP, N.M. — A surge in HIV infections on the Navajo Reservation has doctors and public health workers increasingly alarmed that the virus that causes AIDS has resurfaced with renewed intensity in this impoverished region.
A report released last month by the federal Indian Health Service found there were 47 new diagnoses of human immunodeficiency virus on the reservation in 2012, up 20 percent from 2011. Since 1999, new HIV cases among Navajo are up nearly fivefold, the report found.
“I’m scared to death,” said Dr. Jonathan Iralu, an infectious disease specialist who runs an HIV clinic in this dusty town on the edge of Navajo land, not far from the Arizona border. “The numbers show there is a dangerous rise, and the time to act is now, before it’s too late.”
As with other groups in the United States, infection rates on the reservation had leveled off and deaths dropped, with help from new treatments and outreach seeking to cut through the stigma about AIDS among tribal members.
But over the past few years, the HIV numbers on Navajo land have crept up. That increase, Iralu said, can be partly attributed to the infection being detected earlier, thanks to years of HIV education programs and more routine screening.
And though the numbers are still comparatively low — there are about 200 Navajo patients tracked by area clinics — the challenges of prevention are amplified in a place where sex is still rarely discussed publicly and infection is often hidden from loved ones.
Melvin Harrison, executive director of the Navajo AIDS Network, which provides services for tribal members with HIV, said that of the 65 people his group treats, a majority have not told family or friends.
“That’s how big the stigma is here,” he said. “They are afraid of rejection.”
The intimacy of reservation life, where a hospital receptionist might be a relative or a nurse a close friend, can be a barrier to swift treatment and prevention. Mindful of those challenges, the Indian Health Service allocated $5 million over the past three years for communities to create HIV prevention, treatment and education programs.
“HIV in Indian country is very different than the rest of the world,” said Dr. Susan V. Karol, the agency’s chief medical officer. “Our communities are very small, and that can lead to people avoiding stigma, rather than getting the care they need.”MORE IN Wire NewsFERGUSON — A grand jury declined Monday to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of... Full Story
- Most Popular
- Most Emailed
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: In 1944, U.S. begins B-29 bombing raids on Japanese main islands; in 1950, Great Appalachian Storm begins to form; 1963, Lee Oswald killed by Jack Ruby; 1974, D.B. Cooper hijacks Seattle-bound airliner; 1974, 'Lucy' found.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: On this day in 1927, striking Colo. miners attacked with machine guns by state police; 1877, Thomas Edison announces invention of the phonograph, 1959, Alan Freed fired by WABC 770 AM for accepting payola to promote records.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivers short speech in Gettysburg, Pa.; in 1984, a Pemex LNG facility destroyed by series of gas explosions, 600 people are killed; in 1998, Senate builds fire under Bill Clinton.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: On this day in 1831 – Independent South American super-state, Gran Colombia, dissolved; 1856 - Fort Buchanan built to control Apache warriors; 1970 - William Calley Jr. goes on trial after 1968 massacre at My Lai, Vietnam.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy takes advantage of Cold War jitters and builds a tidy little fiefdom for himself on Capitol Hill. It's all good, but pride goes before you know darn well what. The junior senator is damaged going down.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: On this day in 1927, Leon Trotsky is expelled from the Soviet Communist Party, leaving Joseph Stalin in control of the Soviet Union; in 1970, Oregon DOT tries to dynamite a dead whale off a beach with a rather shocking result.