Disparity for Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islanders with HIV/AIDS - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Disparity for Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islanders with HIV/AIDS

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Saturday marks World Aids Day, and when it comes to the disease, University of Hawaii researchers have discovered some disturbing findings amongst the Native Hawaiian population.

Experts at UH's John A. Burns School of Medicine are looking for ways to help HIV-AIDS patients live longer and avoid prolonged health problems. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islanders are 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV - compared to Caucasians.

And UH researchers discovered HIV-infected Native Hawaiians are three times more likely to be hospitalized - leading to health disparities among our indigenous population.

Dr. Cecilia Shikuma, Director of UH JABSCOM's Hawaii Center for AIDS says, "Whether this is problems with access to care, problems with culturally feeling that they can't come forward early enough, I think it's very important for us in the HIV research field to really find out."

Poverty and lack of information or education may also be factors in the disparity. Scientists hope to publish their findings in medical journals - then, turn those findings over to health officials and lawmakers to get further funding for research and education.

But doctors say there have also been major advancements in combating the disease. "The lessons we learned in 90's and the early 2000's about how to effectively treat people with HIV infection has now translated into a new effort to use those same drugs to prevent infection for people who are at risk for infection," says UH HIV immunologist, Dr. Jason Barbour.

As HIV-AIDS survivors live longer, scientists are finding other health complications. In Hawaii, for instance, 27% of infected patients over age 40 have diabetes or pre-diabetes. 56% have early signs of hardening of the arteries, and 54% have memory problems.

Kirk Elder was diagnosed with HIV just two days after Christmas 2011. "It freaked me out," says the 53 year old. "I had no idea how to deal with it. I thought I was going to die within 9 or 10 months, like my two friends did in the 80's. All that's changed."

Elder says his medication, medical advancements, and support from the non-profit, AIDS organization, Life Foundation, have helped transform what he called "a death sentence" into a life full of vitality.

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