International Indigenous Working Group on HIV and AIDS (IIWGHA)

By Trevor Stratton, Consultant and Coordinator of the IIWGHA

Is There a Connection between HIV and Colonization?

Why is it that around Mother Earth, Indigenous Peoples experience HIV and AIDS levels that are higher than other populations?

Social determinants of health, especially those unique to Indigenous populations as a direct result of colonization and the continuing systemic effects, put Indigenous people at higher risk of being affected by HIV and AIDS. The social determinants of Indigenous health include: “historic, political, social and economic… community infrastructure, resources, systems and capacities…health behaviours, physical and social environment”.°

The Path Leading to the IIWGHA

During the last 30 years, while the world has been responding to HIV and AIDS, there has been limited opportunity for Indigenous people to come together on an international scale to discuss and strategize about HIV and AIDS. However, against the odds, for over two decades, Indigenous Peoples have been on a path leading towards the forming of an International Indigenous Working Group on HIV and AIDS (IIWGHA).

As early as 1989, Indigenous activists in HIV and AIDS had been meeting informally at the International AIDS Conferences with no dedicated funding for an international Indigenous response. The initial leadership was provided by the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC) in the United States, and by Te Roopu Tautoko Trust in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Finally in 2005, with financial support from the Canadian government, the Indigenous People who gathered at the early meetings began to formalize and by 2006 named themselves the International Indigenous HIV/AIDS Secretariat (IIHAS). In 2009, the group formally became known as the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV and AIDS (IIWGHA). In 2006 in Toronto, 2008 in Mexico and 2010 in Vienna, the IIWGHA held formal pre-conferences and satellites to the International AIDS Conferences.

International Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS

The IIWGHA envisions a world where Indigenous communities are empowered to direct the course of their own HIV prevention, care, treatment and support. To operationalize their vision, IIWGHA members worked collaboratively to develop the International Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS.

The International Strategic Plan on HIV and AIDS has six objectives, and suggested activities to achieve these objectives, designed to provide direction and guidance about HIV and AIDS among Indigenous people to governments and leadership of all levels, HIV and AIDS Service Organizations, Cooperatives, and Indigenous communities around the globe. The six objectives are:

  • Increase the visibility of the impact of HIV and AIDS in Indigenous communities at the international level;
  • Improve meaningful inclusion of Indigenous Peoples, and Indigenous people living with HIV and AIDS, in research, policy and program development at the national, regional and international level;
  • Work towards the accurate representation of Indigenous peoples in HIV and AIDS epidemiological data within their own countries or regions;
  • Provide capacity building and development to raise HIV and AIDS and Indigenous Peoples as a health priority;
  • Promote Indigenous specific approaches to the social determinants of health; and,
  • Conduct sustainability planning.


It is very important and necessary that the IIWGHA should be fully supported and adequately resourced by governments and their stakeholders. The IIWGHA exists to build a unified voice for Indigenous peoples in collective action against HIV and AIDS.

The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network has the honour of acting as host of the IIWGHA, and there is to be rotating positions among the international members.

° Health inequalities and social determinants of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health. Charlotte Loppie and Fred Wien, National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. 2009. Available at:

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