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Letter: Shining a light on the HIV epidemic in Native communities

Rep. Buffalo writes, "The U.S. HIV epidemic has become more concentrated in marginalized and disenfranchised communities. HIV health disparities are striking, with more infections occurring in minorities and communities of color than in other populations."

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State Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo
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In 2018, I became the first Democratic Native woman elected to the North Dakota Legislature. I proudly serve my district and advocate for my community. COVID-19 made headlines when it ravaged the Native community, as have many health and wellness issues throughout my life and career.

There’s one health inequity Native populations face that isn’t making headlines anymore - HIV/AIDS.

The U.S. HIV epidemic has become more concentrated in marginalized and disenfranchised communities. HIV health disparities are striking, with more infections occurring in minorities and communities of color than in other populations. The most recent statistics from 2012-2016 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate a 34% increase in HIV diagnoses among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Sunday, March 20, we recognized National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day to shine a light on the need for more testing and continued education on HIV/AIDS. The Native community in our state needs accurate, accessible, and actionable HIV information that is culturally tailored by and for Natives. The geographical distances, cultural differences, and the sheer number of Tribal Nations mean there is no “one size fits all” approach for Native people, therefore partnerships must be built and resources dedicated towards mitigating the epidemic for our citizens.

HIV-related disparities are often connected to a multitude of risk factors, including poverty, lack of access to quality education, and lack of affordable housing. All of these are exacerbated by inconsistent funding for Indian Health Service, and community-based organizations.

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National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day marks a time for us to remember those that have passed, and acknowledge those who have been infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. More importantly however, it is a day to acknowledge the ongoing fight against the disease we must not back down from, to bring greater equity and improved quality of life for everyone impacted by it.

Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, serves in the North Dakota House of Representatives.

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