The only thing that could cripple efforts to eradicate HIV in Indian Country more than the actual virus, is the HIV stigma manufactured by Indian Country itself. HIV stigma, AIDS shaming, and AIDS-phobia directly affect access to HIV resources and services. Whether a person living with HIV doesn't access local services for fear of being "outed," or a Nation doesn't prioritize HIV treatment in the ignorant belief that "it's not our disease," stigma can be far more destructive than any virus. On National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day this March 20th, be an ally, create safer spaces for people living with HIV (PLWH), and let others know that not only does HIV end with you, but so does HIV stigma.
Undetectable = Untransmittable
For close to a decade, many are stepping out of the darkness of HIV stigma and into the light of U=U. It's been well known for years that people living with HIV (PLWH) who are virally suppressed with medication and maintain an "undetectable" HIV viral load, are "untransmittable." Meaning that it is scientifically impossible for them to transmit HIV through unprotected sex. PLWH have been subject to decades of sex shaming, and overall stigma-ladened predjudice when it comes to being public about their status. However, U=U brings about a new day of freedom, and with it, an ownness on the general public to self educate and keep up with the times. Those who are undetectable are doing their part, and so should you.
Observing World AIDS Day 2020 in Indian Country may be one of the most important acts of resistance, resilience, and love that we will enact this year. With a painfully stigmatized past, oppression and ignorance have all too often robbed our own community members of the honor and respect they deserved when they took their last breaths from AIDS complications. Some even abandoned and forgotten by their own families who have treated them as shameful blemishes on their family name. Gone before their time, who will remember them?
With our two-spirit and LGBTQ+ community members heavily impacted by the disease, many conservatives felt that HIV was "killing the right people" during its onset in the 1980's. Our relatives living with HIV/AIDS today continue to fight a fight that chips away at the dignity of the human spirit. Who will encourage them?
Our Elders living with HIV/AIDS have endured so much. Many having been close to death themselves, and then thrust back into a "business as usual" socio-political landscape and lifestyle dictated by a capitalist establishment that not only exercises continuous disregard for their health and holistic well-being, but sees their death as an answer to the world's self-created financial problems and ongoing healthcare system crisis. Elders are sacred, and our Elders living with HIV are brimming with knowledge about not only surviving, but thriving in the face of adversity. Who will honor them?
Quite simply - we will! Today, we remember and speak the names of our relatives who have crossed over with the dignity they deserve. We will stand beside, and magnify the voices, experiences, and unique medicines of our two-spirit and LGBTQ+ community members living with HIV/AIDS. Knowing that an injustice to one is an injustice to all. We will uplift and honor our Elders, and show the world that Indigenous ways showcase the beauty and the resistance of remembering. On this World AIDS Day, we will make sure that the sacred hoop of life doesn't remain broken on this generation's watch. We remembered when it was time to remember, we healed when it was time to heal, we honored always, and perhaps most importantly on World AIDS Day 2020 as an Indigenous community, we loved.
We owe a debt of gratitude to many of our Elders and community members living with HIV who were front line warriors during the HIV epidemic's early days in the 1980's and 1990's. When those from our own communities adopted the oppressive and self defeating "it isn't our disease" attitude towards HIV awareness and prevention, beacons of light like Lisa Tiger (Muscogee Nation) and Isadore Boni (San Carlos Apache) came forward and lit the way for other People Living With HIV (PLWH) to walk in their truth. Our two-spirit community members and the individuals in our Native American, First Nations, and Indigenous communities who have left us too soon due to the disease are remembered every time someone reaches an undetectable viral load. Honor is brought to their name and legacy that they've gifted us each time someone steps forward and says "I am a Native American thriving with HIV," and those ancestors who signed treaties with healthcare rights are honored each time someone utilizes IHS for PrEP and HIV treatment services. This moment in time doesn't exist in a vacuum, and indeed we owe many thanks and much honor to those Indigenous providers, advocates, and front line workers in the public health and community based organization sectors who work to make PEP, PrEP, and antiretroviral treatment more accessible for all. To those creating safer spaces for a newly diagnosed and frightened person who won't seek services on their own land, or in their own neighborhood for fear of being outed about their HIV status, we thank you. To those working, fighting, marching, documenting, and politicking to move us forwards in time, and to end a 30+ year epidemic fraught shame, stigma, and pain, we speak your name.
With Latinos making up more than one quarter of new HIV diagnoses nationwide in 2017 according to the CDC, culturally competent services for the Latinx community, as well as access to such services should be part of every clinic's and community based organization's infrastructure. NLAAD aims to get more Latinx people to join the fight to end the epidemic. In 2005 the CDC reported HIV/AIDS to be the leading cause of death among Latinos. Latinx youth are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups and are considered "at risk" for contracting HIV. The Indigenous movement in the Latinx community requires providers to be culturally aware and sensitive in the care and programing that they deliver. The current socio-political climate has amplified excruciating stigma and barriers to care for our Latinx family, and it's up to us to make ends meet with adequate HIV/AIDS outreach and testing efforts, and prevention/treatment programs that meet the needs of Latinx individuals.
National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day should be observed with the most empathy and care. While the CDC states that gay and bisexual men made up 70% of new U.S. HIV diagnoses in 2017, it is important to remember the socio-political stigma that gay men in particular have endured since the epidemics onset in the early 1980's. Once called GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficency), and the "gay cancer," gay men living with HIV have experienced dehumanized and villianizing prejudices and attitudes in addttion to the opression faced by the LGBTQ2S community at large. NGMHAAD promotes HIV testing and encourages those who are positive to engage in treatment in order to improve their health and reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus to their partners. The medical breakthrough of U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) and People Living with HIV (PLWH) who have undetectable viral loads through ART and are unable to transmit the virus to partners, coupled with PEP and PrEP have been game changers. On National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we encourage you to take charge of your sexual health. Get tested, get the facts, and do your part to eradicate HIV stigma in the gay community.
According to the CDC, people age 50 and older accounted for nearly 17% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2017. Aging with HIV presents a particular set of physical and scientific challenges. With HIV contributing to chronic inflammation in addition to weakening the immune system, special attention should be given to diet and exercise as those living with HIV approach their elder years. As science continues to assist us with having a better quality of life into our 50+ years, elders are enjoying a healthy and fulfilling third act. NHAAD encourages HIV testing among older adults and HIV awareness for seniors, as all who are sexually active should undergo STD/STI screenings regularly regardless of age. National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day is an opportunity to normalize conversations about sexual health with our elders, and reduce the stigma of aging with HIV.
-What you need to know, and why you shouldn't be afraid-
August 24th, 2020/New York City - One of the greatest concerns for a pregnant mother who is living with HIV is passing the virus onto her baby. In a mother who is not on HIV treatment, HIV can be passed during pregnancy, the actual childbirth process, and through breast feeding.
Avert.org states that "There is a 15 to 45% chance of passing HIV on to your baby if neither of you take HIV treatment." The good news is that science and medicine have come light-years since the HIV epidemics onset in the mid 1980's.
If you're pregnant and attending your antenatal appointments (prenatal care) you'll be tested regularly for HIV. Should you test positive you'll be encouraged to start antiretroviral treatment immediately.
Since HIV transmission during breastfeeding is possible, if you think you've been exposed to HIV during this stage, you should seek PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) which can protect your immune system and defend it against the virus. PEP shouldn't be confused with the popular PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which is an ongoing regimen of taking HIV medicine to PREVENT HIV infection.
Here are 3 major steps you can take to keep your baby HIV negative, should you find out that you are living with HIV during pregnancy:
For pregnant mothers living with HIV, properly taking HIV medication during pregnancy reduces the risk of your baby being born with HIV to less than 1%. Your baby will also receive a treatment regimen from four to six weeks after they are born to help prevent an HIV infection from developing.
HIV medicines suppress HIV and help you become "undetectable." Meaning that the amount of virus in your blood is so low that it cannot be detected during HIV blood draw lab tests. An undetectable viral load in a mother living with HIV almost eliminates that chance of passing the virus to your baby during vaginal birth.
Though formula feeding is best for mothers living with HIV, if you insist on breastfeeding you must be adherent to your HIV treatment regime and exclusively breastfeed for at least six months.
Access to comprehensive pre and postnatal care for mother and child are paramount. If you need any help finding proper HIV care and treatment during or after pregnancy, contact the CDC toll free at 1-800-232-4636.
Why staying hydrated during the summer months is important for people living with HIV
THE HEALTHY ELDERS NETWORK / New York City / July 2020 - The tempting plethora of tasty flavored sports drinks and soft drinks are easy to reach for on a warm summer day. While sports drinks can help replace important electrolytes that we lose when we sweat, they may not always be the best choice for people living with HIV (PLWH).
A recent study showed that 1.75 Percent of Americans interviewed were assessed as being Chronically Dehydrated. While findings showed that Americans drank around eight hydrating beverages per day, the effectiveness of the hydration was challenged by the consumption of caffeinated beverages, alcoholic beverages, and eating a diet high in sodium.
For PLWH, HIV and HIV medications can change how the body manages fluids. Even some HIV medicine’s side effects (which sometimes include diarrhea) can cause rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes. HIV medicines can also have a direct impact on the kidneys, with some medicines even causing more frequent urination. Excessive sugar consumption and the added risk of diabetes are just two of many reasons that water is a better choice than a bottle of “Power Sipper-aide Red Goblin” (LOL).
Fatigue, foggy mind or irritability, dizziness, nausea, headache, and plain old thirst are all signs of dehydration. While the benefits of drinking more water every day are obvious, there are also some other benefits you may not think about. Such as the boosting of your metabolism by 30%, just from drinking a glass of cold water! Drinking more water also reduces the risk of kidney stones, which is always a concern for anyone taking daily medications.
At the risk of being Captain Obvious, here are some healthy reminders of ways to make sure you’re hydrating enough while enjoying Grandfather Sun’s warm and healing rays this summer:
FLAVOR YOUR OWN WATER:
Bottled flavored water can often have added sugars, or not so healthy sugar substitutes. Dropping a few slices of lemon, lime, strawberry, or apple in your water bottle is so simple and easy, and also brings the added benefits and nutrients of actual fruit in your water and not just “fruit flavoring.” If water bores you, mix it up with some ripe July watermelon to break the monotony.
BUY YOUR OWN REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE:
Not only is investing the ten bucks in a reusable metal water bottle more eco friendly, but it’s also more wallet friendly. With the average bottle of water costing $2-$3 in most cities, it’s easy to spend $10 in one day on buying bottled water. Your bank account and Mother Earth will thank you. Plus, you’d be surprised how something as simple as having a bottle with your favorite color or a beautiful design on it that you enjoy will help you drink more water.
JUST DRINK IT:
Just sitting in the kitchen or watching TV? Drink a glass of water? Got a few minutes of downtime? Knock back a couple of glasses of water. Just woke up? Drink water. Going to bed? Drink some more water. Your body can always stand more water, but once you’ve passed out from dehydration, you’ve got a guaranteed bag of IV fluids coming your way! Our bodies are made up of about 60% water, so just drink it!
The Summer months are always a great time to increase your physical activity. Especially with all of our quarantine blues, getting outside in the sun feels great! Stay safe, stay cool, and stay hydrated! MNI WICONI!
HONORING OUR TWO-SPIRIT ELDERS LIVING WITH HIV DURING PRIDE MONTH
June 13th, 2020/New York City - Of the plethora of human emotions, shame is perhaps the most useless of all of them. Shame can lead to obsessive self-monitoring and self-condemnation. Leading to depression, anxiety, resentment, addiction, and anger issues. This can have a direct result on adherence to HIV treatment and the ability to thrive with HIV for people living with HIV (PLWH)
Walking in your truth as an LGBTQ2S individual is plagued with bigoted, oppressive, and toxic people seeking to shame you at every turn for your sexuality, sexual orientation, gender expression, and the like. Such violent behaviors are usually because of one’s inability to reconcile with issues within themselves, and/or systematically ingrained hatred. However, when you’re an LGBTQ2S individual living with HIV or AIDS, the shame, and irrational feelings of guilt, coupled with the apathetic and ignorant attitudes of society can be crippling.
The secret to overcoming these mentally and spiritually invasive pitfalls is right under your nose: LOVE YOURSELF! Easier said than done right?
Realizing that this moment in LGBTQ2S/HIV history doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and understanding how the kyriarchal (a system of conquering and ruling based on the white patriarchal oppression of others) structure of the past 527 years has impacted every fiber of our mental conditioning is an important first step. Because we learn about ourselves through relationships with others, it’s often the case that the views of ourselves and our subsequent self-esteem is skewed by the views and opinions of others, and how they treat us.
Who are you? Why should you love yourself? The answer is simple. You are divinity in the flesh. You are an eternal spirit, with a body and a mind. Though you have a mind, you are not the thoughts you think. You are the observer of the thoughts you think. You are light, you are love, you are the universe itself, manifesting through a human nervous system, and becoming self aware.
These things are true of your spirit whether or not you have HIV. For PLWH, HIV has been an experience that you have survived and learned to thrive in. Even through its pitfalls, trials, and tribulations. In fact, if you’re reading this, you have survived 100% of your worse days. Coupled with childhood, adolescent, and adult traumas that you’ve also survived, YOU are a warrior!
With there being a negative and a positive side to pride, the old saying is true - the wolf that you feed is the one that wins. A healthy sense of pride has scientifically proven benefits. Especially in marginalized communities. Working towards a life of self acceptance and self love that depends on absolutely NOTHING outside of yourself is key. Having it not because anyone chooses to give it to you, but because you know that you deserve it. We all do. Putting a value on your love before you expect anyone else to is also crucial. You’ll also be able to hold and set healthier boundaries with yourself and others, push back against negativity, and be your truest self.
Own all of you, including your HIV. Wear it as a metal of honor, use it as the door way to transformation, - and especially during pride month - let it strengthen you in your ability to forge ahead, and let it strengthen others that watch you put one foot in front of the other every day .
Happy Pride Month Relatives!
Having a big sale, on-site celebrity, or other event? Be sure to announce it so everybody knows and gets excited about it.
"Wear a mask, wash your hands, don't touch your face." "WEAR A MASK! WASH YOUR HANDS! DON'T TOUCH YOUR FACE!" Have you heard it in your sleep yet? While COVID-19 should be taken seriously, the morbid sensationalism of the American media has made it all but impossible to get a straight story that’s not clouded with fear-tactic reporting, or tolerate a news program long enough to make sense of it all! As one HIV specialist from Philadelphia Fight's Jonathan Lax Treatment center put it, "it's been painful watching the media report on this."
Indeed the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe. Leaving the world's population of people living with HIV (PLWH) in a precarious position. While a virus can be seen under a microscope, the nuances and experiences of living with HIV through the COVID-19 pandemic cannot. The triggering sense of impending doom, coupled with the sting of watching the United States Government rush to find a cure, while thousands had to kick, yell, scream, and die for medical resources and other support during the first wave of the HIV epidemic in the late 1980's and early 1990's can feel like a smack in the face. The current "We Are All In This Together" utopia can send a chill up one's spine when remembering the popular social attitude of the HIV ladened 80's when people felt that "HIV was killing the RIGHT people." For our Elders living with HIV through the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects are a pandora's box of mental, social, spiritual, and physical burdens. Community Based Organizations who acknowledge these microcosms while serving the PLWH community at this time are to be commended.
On April 17th, the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project (NATAP), gave a webinar presentation entitled "COVID-19 & HIV; Clinical Care Strategies & Updates." While many HIV practitioners feel that controlled HIV that is undetectable (a state where the HIV present in the body is suppressed by treatment, and can't be detected by lab tests. Therefore the virus cannot be transmitted by the undetectable person living with HIV) isn't a first tier risk factor, NATAP data shows that as of midnight on April 6th, 82.6% of NY State's 5,489 COVID-19 deaths involved at least one comorbidity such as hypertension (over 50%), and diabetes (almost 40%). NATAP did mention however, that those who are immunocompromised with a lower CD4 Count (the white blood cells that help fight off infection in the body), as well as those PLWH who aren't virally suppressed by HIV medication are at a great risk for COVID-19 and complications.
In short, there's never been a better time to make some lifestyle changes for the betterment of your health. A quick American Indian Community House youtube search will render Fit Native TV Live Workout Classes, of fun cardio exercise videos that you can do every day to stay in shape. Being home means more time to prepare meals for yourself with wholesome ingredients that will support your immune system. Limiting your exposure to others and the outdoors where lots of people are gathered is crucial at this point. So while we all sit and wait for a vaccine that is effective against COVID-19 - YES - wear a mask when in public and practice social distancing (standing 6ft. apart from others), wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Getting in the habit of not touching your face and washing your hands thoroughly are every day strategies we must do to stay healthy. If you're running a fever with a cough and shortness of breath, contact your local ER immediately or call 911.
Until then, it looks like the time you "never have" to finish that beading project has come *wink wink*. Checkout our AICH Facebook and Instagram for the many virtual community engagement programs we have coming up. Stay safe and well, and know that just as throughout time, all things are still connected, and even in the age of social distancing, WE are still connected.
The detrimental effects that alcohol can have on the liver, body, and brain
Many of us are all too familiar with the devastating effects of alcohol, whether through our own personal struggles, or watching it destroy those we love. Alcohol consumption literally effects the entire body and your complete health profile, but what about the effects alcohol can have on those living with HIV?
April is “National Alcohol Awareness month,” and according to a 2018 national Native American health survey conducted by americanaddictioncenters.org:
When HIV/AIDS is added to an individual’s health profile, the risks of alcohol consumption can include a higher viral load or lower overall CD4 count, and liver damage. While creating a plan with your provider for your holistic and overall health is important, here are 3 vital organs to take into consideration when consuming alcohol with HIV:
While normal alcohol consumption can lead to poor memory, and slowed reflexes, HIV-associated dementia already posses risks for memory loss, difficulty thinking, concentrating, and or speaking clearly. Physical exercise, lowering your blood sugar, and even listening to new music are all ways to help keep your brain sharp and healthy.
With HIV being an inflammation causing condition, and the harsh effects of HIV drugs on the liver, its easy to understand why such a liver damaging substance like alcohol should be avoided by people living with HIV. Coffee, plenty of water and exercise, and a diet rich in antioxidants are a great daily first line of defense for such an important blood-filtering organ.
Alcohol irritates the gut, and with a large amount of your body's immune system living there, gut health is important for everyone, especially people living with HIV. A fiber-rich diet, proper amounts of sleep (at least 8 hours), and the addition of probiotics are all gut-healthy choices you can incorporate into your lifestyle today!
If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol challenges, call the national alcohol hotline at 1-800-662-4357.
A focus on holistic nutrition for those living with HIV during National Nutrition Month
March 20th, 2020/New York City - Indigenous people have known that food is medicine for centuries, and the old adage "you are what you eat" is truer than ever given the state of the American diet.
With 70% of the cells that make up your immune system living in your gut, People living with HIV exploring a healthy immune system-boosting diet is never a bad idea.
March 20th is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and while many will be talking about treatment adherence, a healthy diet should also be a part of a holistic treatment plan for thriving with HIV. Whole grains, high fiber, less sugar, lean meats, and a good portion of dark leafy green vegetables are ideal for our indigenous communities where health conditions such as diabetes are already prevalent.
Here are 3 main organs that every person living with HIV should be keeping "showroom new," and some healthy choices you can make in your diet to keep them that way:
Everything you put in your body is processed through your liver. HIV medicines can be harsh on the liver, and cause conditions such as a fatty liver. We have one word for you . . . COFFEE! Studies have shown that coffee lowers the risk of cirrhosis, and even of some liver cancers. Greens such as broccoli which is high in beneficial plant compounds, improve liver enzyme levels and decreased oxidative stress. Avoiding liver destroying substances such as alcohol are also imperative in maintaining a healthy liver, as well as other healthy organs.
The kidneys are also part of your body's filtration system and process waste. Many HIV drugs require close monitoring of the kidneys to help maintain healthy kidney function. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A and C. They're are also a good source of vitamin B-6 and potassium which are all great for your kidney function. Also, at the risk of pointing out the obvious . . . WATER! WATER! WATER! Just drink it.
The heart is a celebrity organ that needs no introduction. With those living with HIV at an increased risk of heart disease for a variety of reasons, it's never too late to cut down on the amount of fat in your diet. While your at it, add garlic! Garlic has multiple health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Avocados, salmon, and dark chocolate also possess many health benefits for the heart.
Living and thriving with HIV is definitely aided by healthy lifestyle changes. We hope you'll consider some of the tasty suggestions above, and engage in a transparent dialogue with your doctor or local nutritionist about additional dietary changes that can benefit your health. Happy National Nutrition Month! Hope it's a delicious one for you!
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PROTECT YOUR HEART
February is American Heart Month, the perfect time for Elders living with HIV to talk with their doctors about preventing heart disease
February 14th, 2020? New York City - American Indian Community House, New York City - Controlling your blood pressure, keeping your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control, and maintaining a healthy weight are all things that you can do to prevent heart disease. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Here’s the catch - you have to make a doctors appointment, and show up for it.
According to heart.org, people living with HIV can be at higher risk for heart attack, stroke and other types of cardiovascular disease as they get older. The chronic inflammation that HIV can cause in the body, coupled with things like the emotional and mental stress that People Living With HIV (PLWH) can experience, and the current state of the American diet can pose a serious threat for heart disease as a complication of HIV.
With general risks for cardiovascular disease increasing every year after 45 years of age in men, and from menopause through age 65 in women - after which risks increase greatly (poz.com), talking with your physician about genetic risk factors, as well as routine screenings and preventive care are always a good addition to a holistic treatment plan for PLWH. Taking advantage of resources like a nutritional specialist or dietitian at your local clinic or IHS is also a great start to making heart healthy lifestyle changes, as not even those who are HIV negative can out-exercise a bad diet.
Here are 3 things you can begin doing today to contribute to a heart healthy lifestyle;
Only 30 minutes of aerobic activity, five times a week can dramatically reduce your risk for heart disease. The best thing about cardio exercise is that there’s no one way to do it, and it should be something fun and enjoyable. Walking, jumping rope, and arm cycle machines for those who may be differently abled in their lower body are all good options for getting your heart rate up. Even sex is considered good cardio, as researcher say we burn 3.6 calories per minute duirng sex. That’s more calories burned than during a brisk walk! (Don’t say we didn’t provide fun options *wink*)
You may not want to hear it, but smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol immediately increase your risk for heart disease. Talk to your doctor about options for quitting. As they are many, and no one need suffer the unhealthy effects of quitting cold turkey in 2020. If you’re experiencing addiction in your life and would like to seek immediate help, call the National Drug and Alcohol helpline at 1-844-289-0879.
THE BIG SWOP
Swop one unhealthy snack for a healthier choice each day. Raw veggies with some hummus instead of of a candy bar, a high-fiber cereal instead of that donut, these are small lifestyle changes with a big impact. Keep these healthier options stocked in the house or at work so you’re more inclined to make that one healthier choice each day.
As the Wizard of Oz himself said, “hearts will never be practical until they can be made Unbreakable.” Until then, we hope you won’t consider yourself too busy to engage in the health and wellness of one of your bodies most important and beautiful organs.
American Indian Community House Leads The Way For Elders Living With HIV
AICH's Healthy Elders Network is creating opportunities for Elders living with HIV/AIDS to age "positively"
With HIV infections plummeting by 71% (advocate.com) due to the tremendous success of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), the once a day pill that can prevent HIV infection, funders are lining up to prioritize the funding of HIV prevention programs. According to kff.org billions of dollars were spent in the United States on HIV Prevention in 2019, and in the non-profit world - prevention is considered the "cure." But what about People Living With HIV (PLWH)? Moreover, what about the stigmatizing social, political, spiritual, and mental side effects of HIV that no pill treats? Where are the programs focusing on holistic wellness for those thriving, and surviving HIV? New York's American Indian Community House is creating such crucial and life-changing programming.
As pioneers in early HIV/AIDS programming during the disease's devastating first wave in 1980's New York City, and continuing the fight with culturally appropriate HIV/AIDS programs and services like the organization's "First Light Program," the American Indian Community House (AICH) is no stranger to being a front line warrior in a fight where many other Native American social service organizations still fear being associated.
AICH's Healthy Elders Network (HEN) is a program dedicated to the thriving and wellness of PLWH over 50. A demographic that trendy teen through late 20's "club kid" pop culture-focused PrEP ads seem to neglect. As aichHEN.org states, "by 2030, up to 70% of people with HIV will be over the age of 50."
"We're targeting two important pieces of our Indigenous value system: our Elders and holistic community wellness," says Deputy Director and HEN Program Director Sheldon Raymore (Cheyenne River Sioux).
HEN focuses on an empowering community-led model where improving care coordination, increasing resources for better well-being, and informing and educating providers are the centralized focuses. People ageing with HIV have unique needs that not all providers are equipped to meet. HEN works to make sure that people aging with HIV receive care tailored to their needs through continuing education and training programs for providers and clinicians. PLWH participants also participate in focus groups and community input activities where they're able to tell providers what their needs are. Not the other way around.
Being an HIV positive Elder as a Native American - in a community where health disparities, lack of access, and inter-generational trauma already present threats to Indigenous health and wellness - can be challenging and isolating. Having a network of caring and likeminded individuals devoted to empowering holistic wellness can in fact make all the difference in aging positively and with dignity.