There are many reasons for this increase.
Health providers say that there’s a lack of education about the disease on the Navajo reservation and on many reservations across the country.
And the disease, which once only primarily affected people in urban areas, has spread to rural communities across the country.
Also once considered a disease of homosexual men, new cases of AIDS now appear in heterosexual men and women.
“AIDS was once a big city disease, not of rural America. But there’s been a shift. It’s spread in rural areas and border towns close to the Navajo Nation. It’s a pattern throughout rural America now. There’s more transmission in local communities,” said Dr. Jon Iralu, an Infectious Disease Specialist with the Gallup New Mexico Indian Medical Center.
So doctors and other health care professionals are focusing on testing, treatment and educating people about the disease.
In 2006 the Center for Disease Control recommended that every American between the ages of 13 and 64 get an HIV test, Iralu said. HIV is the virus that can develop into AIDS.
“We took that seriously. More people are coming in to be tested,” he said. “One explanation for the increase (in numbers of AIDS patients) is we’re looking harder for it.”
The Navajo AIDS Network, a local nonprofit agency, has created ads in the Navajo language that are now playing on the radio and in movie theaters. Billboards and buses on the reservation and in border towns carry information about AIDS and its treatment.