July / August #93 : Northern Exposure - by Tom Beer

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Publisher's Letter



Mailbox

Sex Ed’s Rubber Rubout

PREPing For Sex

On Me, Not Inn Me

Out Of Data

MTV Goes CDC

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Shades Of Gray

Give Me Fever

Bad Meds

Hot And Bothered

Pass The Scalpel—And The Bucks

Northern Exposure

Cell Low, Cell High

Pillow Talk

Neg (-) But (+) For Lipo

A New Gay Plague?

Hard Workin’ Beans

Viread, Once A Wonder Drug

It's His Party

Out Of Sight

The Truth About Cats And Dogs (& A Horse And A Bird)

Getting’ Hot In Here

The Big Bang Theory

Walk This Way



Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle

Shingles

Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV


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July / August 2003

Northern Exposure

by Tom Beer

Nobody believed that Clarence Smelcer (see photo) could corral a group of Alaska’s native HIVers into one room to discuss the disease. “People thought it would be one big bitchfest,” says the 41-year-old Athabascan activist, who tested positive in 1991. Undaunted, Smelcer formed an advisory board of a range of indigenous communities—Aleut, Inupiat, Tlinget, Haida, Simshian, Athabascan and Inuit. Since January the group has met monthly, strategizing to improve HIV services at Anchorage’s Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC). It’s about time, Smelcer says: “Everybody talks about a healthy community. Well, a healthy community starts with dialogue.”

There’s much to discuss. Alcoholism, drug use, unsafe sex, STDs and homelessness abound in native communities, and HIV carries a powerful stigma. Many native people mistrust doctors and the government, and some 200 Alaskan villages are accessible only by boat or plane. Smelcer says the board is in perfect health—for instance, it persuaded the ANMC to hire a mental health practitioner.

For activists who want to motivate underserved communities, Smelcer suggests:

Earn trust. “I’m a 10-year recovering alcoholic. I’ve been on the street. People know where I’m coming from.”

Listen. Don’t discount anyone. One ANMC board member is a homeless man whose spot-on suggestions have already sparked big changes in ANMC services.

Be realistic. “Alaska natives, for example, are used to the government swooping in on a big plane, saying: ‘We’re here to help you.’ But they just make things worse. I didn’t say we’d change the world, because we can’t.”




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