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SHIPROCK — Community members and students attended the Living in Harmony Symposium to learn about sexual health and sexual safety on Friday at Diné College's north campus here.

Alisa Ellison is program manager for Community Approaches to Reducing Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or CARS, an initiative under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that uses community engagement methods and partnerships to develop awareness and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

Under the national initiative, the CDC awarded a four-year grant to Capacity Builders Inc. to implement a CARS program to reduce and raise awareness of STD, HIV and AIDS in communities on the Navajo Nation.

Public education is crucial due to rising numbers of STD and HIV cases on the Navajo Nation, Ellison said.

The New Mexico Department of Health reported in 2017 that such cases were highest in Shiprock and Gallup, she added.

"It's on the rise and we're here to educate the community," Ellison said.

Since the program started last year, information has been presented at chapter houses, schools and community events but this was the first symposium, she said.

Friday's event offered three sets of breakout sessions, beginning with the Navajo Wellness Model by staff from Northern Navajo Medical Center and personnel from the state Department of Health talked about health and well-being after testing positive for HIV.

Ellison said CARS collaborated with entities such as the state Department of Health, the Navajo Nation HIV Prevention Program and Planned Parenthood to provide education, contraception and free STD testing.

Mattee Jim is supervisor of HIV prevention programs for First Nations Community Healthsource in Albuquerque.

Personnel at the health care provider's booth distributed contraception and talked about resources provided by satellite offices in Farmington and Gallup.

Among the services provided by First Nations is HIV and Hepatitis C prevention education, testing and counseling services.

Jim said it is important for community members to know about these resources because HIV and STD does occur, and education helps remove the stigma surrounding it.

"It happens. I think specifically with Native populations because we don't talk about sex … and the possible consequences of sex," she said.

Hailey Gilmore, prevention and linkage to care coordinator for Southwest Care, said five people were tested for HIV and Hepatitis C as of noon Friday.

Testing was free and confidential and completed inside a mobile unit operated by Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, Gilmore said, adding there was a wait list for the service.

"Testing has been popular," she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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