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Stigma gets in the way of HIV testing in Navajo populations

Category: HIV

Sometimes, the stigma surrounding sexually transmitted diseases may keep people from utilizing STD testing services. This is why people need to know that there are ways they can get tested that are confidential, without ever having to step foot in their local doctor's office. This may be particularly important for people living on the Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico, since researchers claim that HIV numbers are up in the area, and social stigma may be keeping residents from getting tested.

According to The New York Times, a report released in April by the federal Indian Health Service discovered 47 new cases of HIV in 2012, which is a 20 percent increase from 2011. This lead to health officials discovering that, since 1999, there has been a five-fold increase in HIV cases on the reservation.

An alarming trend
The news source spoke to Jonathan Iralu, M.D., who said that he was "scared to death" by these numbers. They suggest that the time to act is now, or else it soon may be too late. The Times also spoke to Melvin Harrison, the executive director of the Navajo AIDS Network, who offers HIV treatments to tribal members. He explained that the majority of the people he treats have not told their family or friends about their infection.

"That's how big the stigma is here," Harrison told The New York Times. "They are afraid of rejection."

Harrison added that when he first started working with Navajo tribal members, he was warned to not openly talk about HIV because it may seem as though he were wishing it on the tribe. However, more education may be able to change things. Harrison said that he spoke to one Navajo man who said that his own mother would not hug him after he got the disease, but she relented once she learned more about the way that HIV was transmitted.

A common issue
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that HIV affects American Indians and Alaska Natives in a way that many people may not realize because these are relatively small populations. These individuals have poorer survival rates than other populations that contract HIV, and a lot of their issues stem from cultural-based stigma.

It's important for people to not let stigma get in their way of accessing STD testing services, especially when they can get tested and treated confidentially.

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