Five years ago, in Gallup, N.M. Elsie Smith husband died without any warning. She mourned his death from the hospital bed.
A doctor explained to the Navajo woman that her lover had died of AIDS. It was important that they check her blood, he said. She agreed.
Two days later, the doctor told her that she was also infected with HIV. Not understanding the disease to the fullest, Smith learned about her diagnosis at the Indian Medical Center in Gallup. This place is where Jerry Archuleta and Emerson Scott, partners who are both HIV-positive, go for their monthly checkup and where Danny Morris nearly died from AIDS before receiving care from both doctors and medicine men.
Most of the infections are occurring in the Navajo Nation. This is because of the large a vast rise of poverty, poor education, alcohol abuse and the hardships of reservation life cultivate an environment in which the virus can spread.
Like Smith, some Navajo learn of HIV and AIDS upon diagnosis while others believe it’s a white man’s disease. Doctors, meanwhile, must explain the virus and disease in round-about ways because, in traditional Navajo culture, to speak of death is to bring it about.
Larry Foster, the Navajo Nation’s sexually transmitted disease coordinator, said health professionals had encountered resistance when giving presentations on the disease.
The amount of people affected is small to the people living in the Navajo Nation. Every year there is about 35 new cases. The number is rising compared to a decade ago.
The first documented case surfaced was in 1987. Typically, the people that carried the disease were gay or bisexual men who contracted the virus in big cities and returned home for treatment or to die.