Federal grants aim to improve outcomes for Native Americans with HIV

Among Native Americans, gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV. Advocates hope new federal funding will allow Two Spirit groups to better serve LGBTQ Native Americans.

Among Native Americans, gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV. Advocates hope new federal funding will allow Two Spirit groups to better serve LGBTQ Native Americans. REGINA GARCIA CANO, Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The federal agency that provides health care to Native Americans will award up to $1 million in grants to tribes and organizations across the country in an effort to improve HIV prevention and care outcomes among tribal populations.

The funding from the Indian Health Service will come in the form of up to five awards together totaling no more than $200,000 a year for five years. The goals of the effort, announced Monday, are to reduce the number of new HIV infections annually, cut the risk of transmission by changing behavior and encourage an open discussion about the virus and disease among the Native American community, which compared with other communities and ethnicities, has poorer survival rates after an HIV diagnosis.

Rear Adm. Dr. Sarah Linde, the acting chief medical officer of the Indian Health Service, said in a statement to The Associated Press Tuesday that more HIV education is needed “because IHS data shows that as many as 26 percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native people living with HIV infection do not know it.”

The IHS National HIV/AIDS Program aims to educate patients on how HIV is spread and how to get tested, offer HIV testing as a routine part of health care, and improve access to care, treatment and prevention services, Linde said.

Tribes, tribal organizations and nonprofits serving Native Americans in urban areas have until Aug. 28 to apply. The grants will be partially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will provide expertise to recipients.

Statistics from the Indian Health Service, or IHS, show American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked fifth in estimated rates of HIV infection diagnoses in 2013 compared with other racial and ethnic groups. That year, men accounted for 78 percent and women for 22 percent of the 218 American Indians and Alaska Natives who were diagnosed with HIV. Of those men, the CDC says 84 percent contracted HIV via male-to-male sexual contact. For women, the most common cause of new infections was heterosexual sex. Also in 2013, about 104 American Indians and Alaska Natives were diagnosed with AIDS, a number that the IHS says has remained relatively stable since 2009.

But while the rate of HIV infections among American Indians and Alaska Natives is proportional to their US population size, they face poorer survival rates as well as prevention challenges, including poverty and a longstanding mistrust of the government-run health care facilities that offer them care. The CDC has acknowledged that confidentiality and quality-of-care issues keep Native Americans from seeking care at IHS-managed facilities.

The individual funding awards that the IHS will give out are anticipated to be between $20,000 and $100,000.

Harlan Pruden, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, said that while he believes there should be more funding allocated to HIV prevention and care efforts, the money that the IHS is currently offering could significantly help smaller “Two-Spirit” — or Native lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — community organizations.

“It opens up the possibility for some of the unfunded Two-Spirit organizations that don’t have a lot of capacity to enter into these cooperative agreements. … They have a lot of community expertise and community engagement — they just don’t have any funding,” Pruden said.

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