FARMINGTON — The number of diagnosed cases of the human immunodeficiency virus on the Navajo Nation has jumped in recent years, prompting health officials to expand services.

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

According to reports from the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, the number of new cases of HIV diagnosed per year in IHS hospitals and health clinics has more than doubled in the last decade.

In 2000, approximately 15 cases of HIV were diagnosed per year at Navajo facilities. In 2009, however, 40 new cases were diagnosed, and 35 were diagnosed in 2010.

"These figures are very alarming," Dr. Jonathan Iralu, infectious disease consultant for the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said in a statement.

Sunday was the fifth observance of National Native American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The day is set aside to acknowledge the continued threat of the virus to American Indian communities.

The virus is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids. The four major routes of transmission are unsafe sex, contaminated needles, breast milk and transmission from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

The IHS hopes to provide more education to native communities to decrease the risk.

"HIV is a considerable problem in Indian Country," said Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, director of the Indian Health Service. "American Indians also face more risk factors than some other groups, such as higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and substance use.


As an American Indian physician and a member of a tribal community, I want to do everything in my power to reduce the spread of HIV."

The IHS, in response to the surge, is implementing new screening efforts, increasing awareness and expanding clinical services.

It also is offering voluntary HIV testing to all people, ages 13 to 64, at IHS hospitals and clinics.

Patients admitted to the hospital for a variety of reasons are offered a voluntary HIV test upon admission.

The screening is funded through a grant from the Minority AIDS Initiative.

"All individuals should learn about the increased risk of HIV in our region," Iralu said. "Navajo Area IHS staff will continue to work with local health providers to increase HIV awareness in local communities and prevent future HIV/AIDS cases."

The Gallup Indian Medical Center is leading the way to better HIV care, according to a news release from the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

Among Gallup's educational initiatives is a 15-second advertisement running at theaters recommending people get HIV tests.

Gallup also has implemented home visits of Navajo-speaking case managers who assist patients with drug therapy, the news release states.

Although specialty HIV care is offered only in Gallup, all Navajo area IHS hospitals have primary HIV care, including Northern Navajo Medical Center, in Shiprock.

"It is hoped that this improvements in outreach and care will result in increased awareness of HIV on and near the Navajo Nation and improved quality of life for HIV patients as well as a reduction in the spread of HIV," Iralu said.

Alysa Landry: