September 06, 2007

O'odham vs. STDs

Disease and Discretion

Tracking a taboo illness in Tohono O'odham countryTake syphilis. In April, the Tohono O'odham tribe confirmed an outbreak of the ancient scourge. Since January, 46 cases have been reported, compared to one or two cases in a normal year. It's believed the initial infection came from a town bordering the reservation.

Not that the tribe is alone in this fight. Syphilis has resurged across the United States, with more than 33,000 cases now reported each year. But battling a heavily stigmatized, sexually transmitted disease among the quite modest O'odham requires a particularly delicate touch.

Out here, you won't find explicit billboard warnings against careless sex, or hear radio announcements taking directly about STDs. Like the rangy land they inhabit, the O'odham prefer a round-about approach.

No comments: