HIV Testing Days Tailor Message to Indigenous Communities

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 19, 2013

Bob Marley sang "One love, one heart; let's get together and feel all right," and his sisters and brothers of Caribbean descent have borrowed these lyrics and his ethos for the annual Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on June 8, themed "One Love." This Caribbean People International Collective (CPIC) initiative is being mobilized to encourage education, testing, treatment and involvement, as well as to reflect, memorialize and show compassion for those affected or infected.

In addition to the National HIV Testing Day on June 27, each calendar year is filled with testing days for specific populations impacted by the pandemic. This year has already seen National Black AIDS Awareness Day on Feb. 7, with the motto "I Am My Brother/Sister's Keeper," and March offered two national HIV/AIDS Awareness days: Women and Girls were the focus on Mar. 10 ("Share Knowledge, Take Action"), with Native Americans -- including American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Alaska Natives and other indigenous peoples -- on Mar. 20 ("Honor Our Ancestors, Protect Our People, Take the Test!").

The 2010 UNAIDS Progress Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic notes that in the Caribbean region, nearly a quarter million people, or 1 in 100, are HIV-positive, the highest prevalence of HIV infection outside of sub-Saharan Africa. While the rate of HIV infection appears to be slowing, nearly 17,000 newly identified infections and 12,000 AIDS-related deaths still occur each year.

More than 240,000 native people are infected, and the disease has also had a demoralizing effect on the diaspora in the United States. Surveys in these Caribbean-American communities show that HIV/AIDS and inadequate access to health care have a major impact on this population.

People of color account for a greater proportion of reported AIDS cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the virus is the leading cause of death for African-Americans aged 25-44. However, the designation of African-American is a blanket term for a disparate population covering all socio-economic classes, religious and cultural heritages, including slave descendants and immigrants, so current epidemiological surveillance doesn't reflect these differences and can cause inaccurate risk prediction in specific populations.

Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day At the Forefront

The National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day focuses on racial as well as gender disparities, and is organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women's Health (OWH). They report that African-American women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected. In 2010, their HIV infection rate was 20 times that of white females.

"HIV infections continue to spread among women and girls, creating specific challenges that need to be addressed collectively," said The AIDS Institute's Director of Education Michelle Scavnicky. "We continue to emphasize increased awareness and HIV/AIDS education for Caribbean women and girls, as this group represents the majority of HIV infections and is at greatest risk for sexually acquired infection."

Caribbean populations regularly migrate or permanently immigrate from the islands to the mainland, and there are also ongoing relocations among states and cities such as New York, Miami and Boston. This dynamic mobility is a significant contributing factor to the spread of HIV/AIDS in these communities because moving impacts the continuity of health care and can complicate the stigma of the disease.

The OWH said that the Affordable Care Act and the President's national HIV/AIDS strategy, released in July 2010, has made considerable strides in increasing testing, improving access to care to optimize health outcomes and reducing these HIV-related health disparities. President Barack Obama said that national HIV testing days will help the more than 200,000 Americans that are unaware of their infection as well as the over 1.1 million living with HIV.

"The Affordable Care Act now requires many health insurance plans to provide recommended preventative health services with no out-of-pocket costs, giving millions of Americans better access to HIV testing," said Obama.

The CPIC encourages communities nationwide to sponsor diverse activities in early June to create HIV/AIDS awareness for Caribbean-Americans. Chicago's Truman College plans to host a town hall meeting and exhibition on June 7, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., to create dialogue on how to improve HIV/AIDS care in the Caribbean.

St. Petersburg, Florida, will offer free Caribbean food, plus screenings, information, entertainment, and community speakers, including Mayor Bill Foster, at The Yard on June 8, from noon-4 p.m. For more information, or to plan a local event, visit

"Taking Care of Yourself is Taking Care of Our People"

Many cultural communities struggle with the stigma of HIV, and this array of national awareness days promotes education as a way to encourage understanding. In addition to their March event, the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC), located in Denver, also offers ongoing social network training called "capacity building assistance," plus the Native American Engagement in HIV Clinical Research project so their constituency can benefit from biomedical breakthroughs, and a robust National Native Youth Council on HIV/AIDS, which advocates for, empowers and supports native youth in rural and urban tribal communities across the country.

NNAAPC's Native Youth Prevention Media Project is an 18-session curriculum, which guides participants aged 16-20 through the creation and delivery of their own HIV prevention social marketing campaigns. These classes include medical information such as transmission and infection, media literacy sessions, media development, and production work and leadership development such as public speaking. For more information, visit

This fall, national days scheduled include HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness on Sep.18, Gay Men's Awareness on Sep. 27, and Latino AIDS Awareness on Oct. 15. For a complete calendar, click on, and heed Bob Marley's words: "Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner."

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at