The Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Cherokee Nation Health Service are launching a new pilot project to help “accelerate progress” toward ending the HIV epidemic in native communities.
The project, which will investigate the most effective prevention strategies and share the findings locally, is part of the initiative Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America . That plan focuses prevention and treatment efforts on 48 counties and 7 southern states with a higher proportion of HIV diagnosis in rural areas. The Cherokee Nation is in Oklahoma, which has the highest American Indian population among the 7 southern states.
Recent data show new HIV infections at the lowest level yet, but progress in prevention has slowed, in part due to new threats such as the opioid crisis: 10% of new HIV infections are among injectable-drug users.
The Cherokee Nation’s proven track record in hepatitis C prevention and treatment makes it a valuable partner in the project. Half of its health services patients have been screened, and among the 3.2% testing positive, 90% have been cured. The pilot project will use a similar model, IHS says. Current statistics show that 35% of Cherokee National patients using the tribe’s health centers have been screened for HIV, with < 1% testing positive. Of the patients diagnosed with HIV, 90% are receiving care and 90% of those are virally suppressed. The pilot project is aimed at boosting the screening numbers.
The pilot is one of several HHS efforts to jumpstart key activities in select communities using resources from the Minority HIV/AIDS fund. The CDC also is launching projects in select communities.
“Improved health care over multiple generations is our top priority,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “If we can collaborate with our federal partners at IHS to raise awareness, increase education, and actively work to prevent new cases of HIV, then we will be creating a healthier future for northeast Oklahoma.”