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National Native HIV-AIDS Awareness Day is a reminder to get tested across Indian Country

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

Today is National Native HIV-AIDS Awareness Day, first observed in 2007. This year’s theme is “It’s All Relative, Our Experience Makes a Difference.” It’s still a serious public health issue affecting tribal communities all across Indian Country, especially in Arizona.

CDC data shows that new HIV diagnoses among American Indians and Alaska Natives was more than double the rate of whites in 2021.

Although about 80 in every 100 Native Americans living with HIV know their status, discussing these health disparities is still a difficult, and even taboo, subject.

Shane Sangster is NATIVE Health of Phoenix’s practice manager, who’s been involved with HIV programming and testing for more than a decade.

“We help you get the medical care that you need,” said Sangster, “because a lot of the times, especially with like Native culture, folks, really have a large stigma against anything either sexual in nature, or could result in deaths.”

In Arizona, this same demographic has the highest viral suppression rates, and the HIV Center of Excellence at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center is the largest Indian Health Service-run and HIV-focused clinic nationwide.

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.