WINSLOW-This Friday, Dec. 1, there will be a candlelight ceremony, gathering and walk in Winslow in commemoration of World AIDS Day. The event will be at the Winslow Indian Health Care Center (WIHCC) and will begin at noon and go until 2 p.m. Hot cocoa and snacks will be provided.
Jeannie Clark, the Navajo Nation HIV prevention coordinator in Dilkon, and Kris Kelly, sexually transmitted diseases intervention specialist, recently visited Winslow to organize support for the event.
WIHCC is offering their support by having the event in the front area near the hogan. Winslow Mayor Allan Affeldt and Little Colorado River Medical Center Director Jeff Hamblin said they would be there, too.
Clarke said that in 1998, there were three known cases of HIV in Winslow and 79 on the Navajo Nation. Last year, she said there were at least 35 in Winslow and 238 on the reservation.
"We have been seeing more co-infections of HIV with syphilis too," Kelly said.
Clarke and Kelly have toured the Winslow area randomly testing the chronic street intoxicants. Fortunately, nothing turned up during their last round of tests, they said.
Gallup, N.M. has reported an outbreak of these STDs, and that has regional medical personnel concerned because of the transient nature of the chronically intoxicated street people populations.
Clarke has been organizing educational forums on HIV in southwestern Navajo Nation chapter houses since 1998, but she said she believes it is time to come back and focus on Winslow.
"There is a problem with people who come into town after payday," Clarke said. "We do not know who they have been with and the substance abuse makes them more vulnerable."
Getting over the myths and away from the political trends is the focus of HIV educators.
AIDS education in American schools is either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus/comprehensive education.
AIDS education in American schools usually comes as a part of a sex education program, depending if the district and parents allow teaching it.
Sex education has for some time been led by the family values or faith-based conservative movement that severely influences what can be taught. Under this perspective, natural biological urges are suppressed by the thought that telling the youth to wait until marriage, is a sound policy for preventing STD, HIV and unwanted pregnancy. There has been debate for many years over which form of sex education is most effective in terms of preventing these. But a recent study (Texas Department of State Health Services, Dr. B. Pruitt, 2005), President Bush's home state, found that students who have abstinence-only education are just as likely to have sex as their comprehensively-educated peers.
Clarke has not been allowed to speak with inmates at the County Jail or with students in Holbrook.
Aside from religious differences, Clarke said that cultural behaviors and taboo make HIV education also difficult to speak about within the Navajo communities.
"They are told they should not talk about it because they think that by doing so it will attract the illness to them," Clarke said. "Many of the reservation also believe that HIV is minor, and something that can be cured with a medicine man."
Clarke said she is willing to come and talk to any group who is willing to hear her message. For her troubles, her husband gave her a starfish pendant to remind her that by reaching out to people, she is saving a life, like throwing a starfish back into the ocean.
"It is all worth it if I can make the difference with one person," she said.
Jeannie Clarke may be contacted at (928) 657-8021 or by e-mail
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