By: Lani Hansen, Senior Reporter
OKEMAH, Oklahoma– March 20 is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day to address the impact of HIV on Native People. The annual observance is set aside to promote HIV education, testing, prevention and treatment in Native communities.
“March 20 is the beginning of spring. Spring represents a time of change and new beginnings – a celebration of life. It is only appropriate that spring was selected as a time to acknowledge the need for HIV education, testing and prevention,” said Merideth Rasor, Project Director for Muscogee Health’s Substance Abuse/HIV Grant.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that is spread through sexual contact and sharing drug injection equipment. If untreated HIV can lead to AIDS. Since 2010, HIV diagnoses have increased 39% among American Indian/ Alaska Native individuals. The CDC recommends every individual be tested at least once in their lifetime for HIV, but as often as annually depending on risk factors.
“There are medications available to help prevent HIV,” said Rasor. “These medications are called PrEP and it stands for Pre-exposure prophylaxis; when taken regularly, they can significantly reduce the risk of acquiring HIV.”
There are also many treatment options for persons living with HIV. “At Muscogee Health, we can tailor a treatment plan that is specific to the patient,” said Dr. Amanda Reed, MCNDH physician and HIV Champion. “We want to treat the individual from a holistic standpoint – mind and body.”
A common phrase in HIV treatment is U = U, which means undetectable equals un-transmittable. If a person living with HIV is receiving treatment, the amount of the virus in their body can reach a level that is undetectable. When that person living with HIV has an undetectable viral load, they cannot transmit HIV to another person. This is why early detection and treatment are so tremendously important.
“Often people who believe they may have been exposed or who are HIV or Hep C positive do not seek out testing or treatment because of the fear of bias and discrimination,” said Dr. Reed. “We want our patients to know we are their ally; we are here to support them and provide optimum care.”
If you or someone you know is living with HIV, or is interested in more information regarding PrEP, HIV, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing or addiction, contact Dr. Amanda Reed at the Koweta Indian Health Facility. Telehealth appointments are available.
In honor of National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Services is hosting a free HIV and Hepatitis C testing event. This event will take place on March 19, 2021 at the Koweta Indian Health Facility from 10am-3pm. There will be a van set up in the parking lot to provide free and confidential testing. Tee shirts are available to all participants.
Together we can end the HIV epidemic. Know your status. Get tested.