IHS, Cherokee Nation launch HIV pilot project
TAHLEQUAH – On National HIV Testing Day, Indian Health Service and Cherokee Nation officials announced an HIV pilot project to ensure the success of the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America.
Tribal officials said the project will begin implementing and evaluating key foundational activities that will help accelerate progress toward ending the HIV epidemic in Indian Country.
“These foundational efforts will set the IHS and our tribal partners on a path for rapid progress in reducing new HIV infections,” Principal Deputy Director Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee said. “The pilot project will also reveal important insight into the HIV prevention and treatment activities that should be implemented early – and those that should be strengthened over time.”
According to a CN release, findings will be shared with other communities to accelerate and support their efforts to implement the most effective prevention strategies locally, and to move the initiative forward should the Ending the HIV Epidemic resources be funded in 2020.
“We have proven to be a successful partner in developing cutting-edge pilot programs, which can drastically decrease health disparities, not just for Cherokees but for all of Indian Country,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Improved health care over multiple generations is our top priority, and 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.”
According to the release, the Ending the HIV Epidemic plan focuses efforts on 48 counties and seven southern states with a high proportion of HIV diagnosis in rural areas. Oklahoma is the state with the highest American Indian population among the seven southern states.
The release also states the pilot is part of efforts by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health to jumpstart key activities in select communities using fiscal year 2019 resources from the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund.
According to the release, the CN was chosen for the project because of its track record in Hepatitis C prevention and treatment, which screened 50 percent of its health services patients. Among the 3.2 percent testing positive, the cure rate is more than 90 percent.
The release states the HIV Ending the Epidemic plan will use a similar model. Statistics show that 35 percent of CN patients using the tribe’s health centers have been screened for HIV, with less than 1 percent testing positive. Ninety percent of those patients diagnosed are receiving care, and 90 percent are virally suppressed, the release states.
According to the release, the project will help increase the number of patients screened.
National HIV Testing Day is observed annually on June 27 to encourage people to get tested for HIV, know their status and get into treatment right away if they have HIV. This year’s theme, “Doing It My Way,” highlights how and why people make testing part of their lives in a way that is comfortable for them.