TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma - The Cherokee Nation was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to combat the spread of HIV.

Oklahoma is considered one of seven states with high numbers of people newly-diagnosed with the disease.

At the Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee, Dr. Jorge Mera sees patients with HIV on a regular basis.

“We have really good treatments,” Mera said. “A patient who is diagnosed and treated can live practically a normal life.”

Mera said there are more Cherokee Nation citizens who should be getting treatment for HIV. He said there’s probably about 100 people in the area who don’t know they have the disease.

“Everybody should get at least, once in a lifetime, an HIV test done,” he said.

With $1.5 million from the U.S. Health and Human Services department, the Cherokee Nation will be rolling out a public campaign to educate people and encourage them to get tested.

One of the goals of the program is to raise awareness about a drug Mera said can prevent HIV.

“I always get upset when we have tools to prevent diseases that are potentially lethal and people don’t know about them,” Mera said.

The organization “AIDSVu” uses data from the CDC, along with local health departments. It said as of 2016, nearly 6,000 Oklahomans are living with HIV. 

Mera is confident the grant money will help save lives.

“If this works well and we are consistent in delivering the message and delivering the services, then in about 10 years we can potentially eliminate HIV from our communities,” he said.

This is all part of a national effort to combat HIV. During his 2019 State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s goal to end the HIV epidemic. To learn more, click here.

Three other communities across the United States were also chosen to receive grant money.